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fmagraphicIn July I joined the #Firemanalong, a group read hosted by Care’s Books and Pies and The Capricious Reader. The Fireman is the newest book from Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, about whom I’ve been most curious.

I was all set for this to be a new favorite, especially after reading the opening page, in which Hill cites as “inspiration”: J.K. Rowling, P.L. Travers, Julie Andrews … and Ray Bradbury. Excellent!

Hill has fun with his allusions, one moment citing Samuel Beckett and then MTV VJ Martha Quinn. There are also nods to Dumbledore, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Graham Greene, Mary Poppins, and, of course, zombies.

The Fireman starts out much like one of King’s novels in that it grabs you straightaway. It was an exciting and addictive page-turner … right until about page one hundred and forty-something, when it really slowed down. Considering the book was 747 pages, I wish Hill had kept up the thrill ride a bit longer.

The first part deals with an outbreak of a mysterious epidemic of “Dragonscale,” which causes its victims to self-combust. Hill offered a plausible and scientific explanation for the disease and that kept me invested.

Our heroine is a plucky nurse named Harper (after another of Hill’s favorite authors) who volunteers as a nurse and ultimately gets infected.

The scenes of mass hysteria and of the unraveling of society were believable and suspenseful. There’s a compelling, vivid urgency that makes you think, wow, this could happen. There are also several buzzy cameos: George Clooney, President Obama, and Glenn Beck.

fireman in boxIt wasn’t until Harper joined a sort of commune for the infected, Camp Wyndham, that the book stepped into the slow lane and became more of a morality tale. I felt Hill had pulled a bait-and-switch—I wanted more of the excitement that he had teased me with for over 100 pages.

Instead, I got lots and lots (and lots) of backstory! I don’t know why Hill decided to go the route of having all the subplots and complications relayed second-hand. Hill is a master of twists and turns, but this genius was somewhat diluted because instead of experiencing it … we had it retold by other characters. I like my suspense real-time.

In particular, the Harold Cross subplot and the prison story would have been so gripping to read as they occurred. I cannot think why we had to hear about them postmortem? I wanted to be in there with the prisoners, looking around and fearful of what might happen next. What did happen would have been much more chilling to me if I didn’t already know who would survive. Also, the Mazz and Father Story question would have been spookier and more complicated if I had first known and identified with Mazz.

The Harold Cross thread reminded me of something from 24—the stray character who makes a series of judgment errors that escalate. I just wish I had gotten to experience that paranoia and tension. Likewise, I would have cared more about Cross’s fate.

Even if Hill were not King’s son I would be contrasting this to Under the Dome, in which King had several subplots spinning out at once via many lead characters. Michael Crichton also did this very well.

Since the action was elsewhere, the whole camp kibbutz storyline got stale for me. I wanted to know more about what was going on beyond their hideaway. The state of Maine had burned to a crisp, but what about the rest of the country? The rest of the world?

The camp dynamics of, say, who got soggy oatmeal versus who got fancy coffeecake seemed a bit trifling when there was a worldwide catastrophe going on.

Also, I felt a bit let down by the ending. I’m not asking for things to be tidied up and happy. I loved how Christopher Nolan tantalized us with the conclusions of Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. (I even loved the LOST finale!)

But, after 747 pages, I do expect some sort of pay off. This felt like it ended midstream with little resolution and almost no reveals as to what was next for Harper—or for the world. It was like ending halfway through Homer’s Odyssey and just as frustrating as the fuzzy, fade-to-black of The Sopranos.

Having said all this, I must add that Hill is a very good writer and (when he wants) can make for some addictive reading. If he had presented his subplots (with their creepy twists) firsthand and given them the same sense of urgency as the first one hundred pages, then The Fireman would likely have been *the* blockbuster, can’t-put-down book of the summer. Hill definitely has that potential.

Lots of the #Firemanalong readers loved the book! They posted all sorts of shrewd observations and fun reactions on twitter. Indeed, for me, the #Firemanalong was the best part of this read.

 

#Firemanalong at Care’s Books and Pies

#Firemanalong at The Capricious Reader

#Firemanalong on twitter

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Our Classics ClubHere’s my Classics Spin #11 list.

The Spin is hosted by The Classics Club who will pick a number between 1-20 on Monday Dec 7 … and that is the book that all participants have to read by Feb 1.

I went mostly with big, thick, old-fashioned classics which are perfect reading on long winter nights.

Come up with your own Spin list tonight and join us when the lucky number announced by The Classics Club tomorrow.

Follow #ccspin and @ourclassicsclub on Twitter

Lucky Spin Number: 19

I will be reading “The Brontës,” by Rebecca Fraser

1.) Scenes of Clerical Life, by George Eliot

2.) Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

3.) Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope

4.) Greenvoe, by George Mackay Brown

5.) Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery

6.) Frenchman’s Creek, by Daphne du Maurier

7.) Can You Forgive Her?, by Anthony Trollope

8.) Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

9.) Adam Bede, by George Eliot

10.) Jane Austen: The Parson’s Daughter, by Irene Collins

11.) Shirley, by Charlotte Brontë

12.) Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy

13.) Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brien

14.) The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe

15.) Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

16.) A Study in Scarlett, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

17.) Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne

18.) Under the Greenwood Tree, by Thomas Hardy

19.) The Brontës, by Rebecca Fraser

20.) David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens

Village School by Miss Read — Classics Club Spin #10

Classics Club Spin #10 Reading List

Classics Club Spin #7 Reading List

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salem along teethAll month I’ve been reading Salem’s Lot by Stephen King as part of the #SalemAlong—a group read hosted by Melissa, Trish, and Care. It has been a blast! The book is an addictive page-turner, but also I’ve loved seeing everyone’s comments and reactions as they read via twitter.

It’s not too late if you want to join in. It’s fast read, and #SalemAlong runs through Halloween. But beware this post has spoilers—something I usually try to avoid. So, *spoiler alert!*

FYI, per the page numbers: I bought the Anchor Books mass market paperback, because pulpy seems to fit Stephen King.

NOTE: You do not need to have read Dracula, The Haunting of Hill House, or any vampire lore, as King gives the reader all the needed clues and info—though one character is saved by a deep knowledge of monster comics.

p. 15 “ ‘Salem’s Lot” is short for Jerusalem’s lot. Nice ironic touch.

p. 21 Already hooked. The prologue was a spooky tease, but by the third page of the first chapter, I know I’m in for the haul. No surprise or sudden cliffhanger. It’s just that King’s writing is so darn readable.

p. 25 The creepy the Marsten house looms large!

p. 26 I’m invested in Ben—another likable guy in the vein of Barbie and Rusty from Under the Dome and Jake from 11/22/63.

p. 64 Chapter 3: The Lot (I). My favorite chapter follows a day in the Salem’s Lot, introducing the reader to different characters and to the rhythms of small-town life. I was fascinated by how different things were in Maine back in 1975. For example, Susan left an order on the door overnight for the milkman, who arrived each morning straight from the nearby dairy.

I would’ve been quite happy to read along and have no vampires. I felt the same way at the beginning of Under the Dome.

p. 101 “Barlow and Straker” This made me thing of Bram Stoker. Maybe that’s a stretch, but I got that connotation each time I read the names.

p. 106 “between then [next week] and October 30.” King likes to remind us that Halloween is on the horizon. This book starts late Sept and runs into October. (Under the Dome also took place in October.)

p. 188-122 Vintage King! Here he takes something ostensibly trite (being afraid of shadows while walking through the woods) and makes it terrifying! Instead of feeling that I had read or seen this before (which of course we all have), I was truly, palpably scared along with the two little boys.

p. 201 “That year the first day of fall (real fall as opposed to calendar fall) was September 28” Now the days start to get shorter and the nights get longer.

p. 223 “Understand death? Sure. That was when the monsters got you.” Foreshadowing from the mind of 12-year-old Mark Petrie.

p. 242 “Say, these kids aren’t going to eat me, are they?” Ben asks Matt the school teacher, in another little foreshadowing zinger.

p. 371 I got up and made sure to shut and lock all the windows of my house. No more reading this book at night!

SalemAlong buttonp. 422-435 Ok. I’m shouting at the book here. Just as King managed to make the overused spooky woods motif fresh and horrifying, inversely this scene seems so played … like it came out of a Scary Movie sequel. Why, why would anyone go to the vampire’s house at dusk?! Especially, why would a kid who had earlier proven so savvy in vampire knowledge? This whole scene annoyed me. Susan, who I had liked before, seemed really stupid here. I hate it when girls/women are stupid victims … and here is where I lost sympathy for Susan. Um, Darwin Award.

I don’t think this is the prevailing opinion, as there were lots of sighs and gasps for Susan on twitter. #SalemAlong

p. 473 “Sunset on Sunday, October 5, 1975, at 7:02 pm, sunrise on Monday, October 6 1975, at 6:49 am.”

This is a nice device with the countdown to sunset which King uses at times to remind the reader that sunset is getting earlier and daybreak later—longer nights! This especially resonated with me because I’ve also been watching the sunrise creep later and later. I hate dark mornings, and I’m counting the days until daylight savings begins on Nov 1.

p. 512 I would’ve grabbed a couple of bottles of the Médoc on my way out of the Marsten House.

Also, I liked this plot twist here, by touching on the myth that vampires can anticipate the future. The cat-and-mouse game with Barley ups the suspense/thriller aspect of the book. King keeps us hooked by integrating this with the horror story.

p. 520 “In the fall, night comes like this in the Lot:
The sun loses its thin grip on the air first, turning it cold, making it remember that winter is coming and winter will be long. Thin clouds form, and the shadows lengthen out. They have no breadth, as summer shadows have; there are no leaves on the trees or fat clouds in the sky to make them thick. They are gaunt, mean shadows that bite the ground like teeth.”

p. 576 So what happened to Father Callahan? Did he end up at a rave in the East Village?

p. 628 Wow. The “dissolution” scene reads like blow-by-blow a description of what happens to the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’m wondering if this is just a coincidence? Or if Steven Spielberg had read Salem’s Lot (which came out six years before his movie) and was inspired either subconsciously or consciously. I’m not suggesting plagiarism, but more like a cinematic allusion, much the way rappers sample other music.

p. 652 October 1972 – June 1975

I always like the way King put the dates he spent writing each novel on the last page. I’ve noticed that the writing times are much shorter for his more recent books, like Under the Dome and 11/22/63, which each took about a year even though they are much longer. So he is picking up speed!

Overall, I highly recommend this read—especially fun during the run up to Halloween. It wasn’t as scary for me as The Shining (the movie … I have not yet braved the book). But I will confess that I tried not to read it at night. When I did, I was frightened enough to lock all my windows and wear my cross around my neck.

A thank you shout-out to readalong hosts Melissa, Trish, and Care. They are most welcoming, and there is still a week left if you want to join the #SalemAlong!

Next up for me is a sunny, fluffy read. The Diamond Caper, by Peter Mayle, takes place on the French Riviera—a perfect antidote to Stephen King!

Mayle antidote

Readalong of Salem’s Lot

Join the Salem’s Lot Readalong

#SalemAlong on Twitter

#112263Along — readalong of 11/22/63

#DomeAlong — readalong of Under the Dome

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Village School Miss Read LGI’ve been curious about the Miss Read books and was so pleased when Village School was lucky number #5 on my Classics Club Spin List. It tells the story of the small village of Fairacre, England, as narrated by the school mistress of the local, two-room elementary school, aka “Miss Read”.

Set right after World War II, the book begins on the first day of school with all the anticipation and excitement felt by the two teachers and their students. The story unwinds in a series of slice-of-life vignettes that follow the school year. Miss Read has a knack for creating evanescent moments: children making straw bunches for the harvest festival; strained conversation while drinking tea in a dusty sitting room; an evening of skating on the local pond lit up by a farmer’s lorry (truck) headlights.

Throughout the book I had that wistful feeling of the passing of time, for example this lovely summer afternoon:

“We were disposed at the edge of the half-cut field under the elm trees’ shade. The air was murmurous with the noise of the distant cutter and with myriads of small insects. Far away the downs shimmered in the heat, and little blue chalk butterflies hovered about us … the children sat or lay in the grass with their books propped before them. Some read avidly … But others lay on their stomachs, legs undulating, with their eyes fixed dreamily on the view before them, a grass between their lips, and eternity before them. … When these boys and girls are old and look back to their childhood, it is the brightest hours that they will remember. This is one of those golden days to lay up as a treasure for the future, I told myself, excusing our general idleness.”

The author, whose real name is Dora Jessie Saint, taught school for many years, and the Fairacre novels are fictionalizations of her own experiences—much like James Herriot’s books.

Village School is a delightful, cosy, and relaxed read. That’s not to say that it is sugar-coated. The thatched cottages look pretty, but inside they are dark and damp, with no plumbing or drainage. Likewise the narrative touches on difficulties such as a drunkard father, a boy who has no dinner (lunch) money, and the formidable test that decides the educational fate of 11-year-olds. Miss Read empathizes with her students and neighbors, especially the grubby but beguiling Joseph Coggs. Overall, however, the book is upbeat and highlights the charm of village life. The school janitor (who has laid out all the courses) has a role of prominence at the summer sports day, walking about in a blue serge suit with the vicar.

My one serious complaint is that the “n-word” jumped off page 135, which was shocking and, honestly, somewhat horrifying. Miss Read uses it to describe how hard one of her students is studying. This was especially jarring given the comforting cadence of the prose.

Back in 1939, Agatha Christie had a book with the “n-word” in its title, although when it was released the next year in the U.S., the title was changed to And Then There Were None. The UK version adopted the latter title by the 1980s. Village School was published in 1955, and my edition was reissued in 2001. So it seems even more egregious that this has not been addressed.

That aside, I found this a charming book, and I think the many Fairacre sequels will be perfect reading for cold winter nights by the fire with a cup of tea.

Our Classics ClubTo read other reviews from this CC Spin, check out @ourclassicsclub or #ccspin on twitter.  Why not join us in the next Classics Club Spin?

My Classics Club Spin #10 Reading List

The Classics Club Homepage

The Classics Club Spin Challenge

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dewey graphicThis past weekend I participated in the Dewey’s Readathon, with 1900 readers from all around the world. Well, sort of. I had family in town so I spent much of the weekend with them. Thus, I didn’t log the serious hours of reading that I have in the past.

I read in snatches, as the Readathon went from 8:00 am Sat to 8:00 am Sun, my time. (The times change depending on where you live—so that we are all reading for the same 24-hour period.) Most of the participants tweet progress updates, and it’s really fun to see who is reading, where they are, and which books. Bookworm joy!

I finished up Rival Queens by Nancy Goldstone and Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie—but that was only about 30 pages each. I also managed about 100 pages of Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, which I’m reading with twitter friends as part of the #SalemAlong.

I never plan this but somehow I always wake up early on Readathon Sunday. At 5:00 am, I made some hot tea and started Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I didn’t quite finish it by 8:00 am. OK, I may have nodded off for a bit. But I did knock it off with some extra reading time on Sunday—so I’m counting it.

Tally:
Big Magic—273 (entire book)
Rival Queens—30 pages ish (finished book)
Hallowe’en Party—30 pages ish (finished book)
Salem’s Lot—100 pages (solid dent)

433 ish pages total

The next Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon is Sat April 23, 2016. Join us!

stack oct 2015

Past Dewey’s Readathons:

Hurray! Its the  Dewey’s Read-a-thon April 2014

So in Need of Dewey’s Read-a-thon October 2013

Here We Go, Dewey’s Read-a-thon April 2013

Read-a-thon or Read-a-5k? October 2012

Read or Cheer on the Dewey’s Read-a-thon October 2011

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SalemAlong buttonIt’s the first day of the Halloween month, and I’m starting the #SalemAlong—a readalong of Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. The #SalemAlong is hosted by Melissa, Trish, and Care.

Interested? Click here to join us!

Honestly, I’m a bit nervous about the nightmare factor, but I think (well, I’m told) that it will somewhat be alleviated by reading together with some of my book buddies. Strength in numbers?

I read both Under the Dome and 11/22/63 in readalongs, and it’s so fun to see everyone’s comments and reactions via twitter and blog posts.

But this is the first of King’s horror books I’ve read since Carrie, which I found much more terrifying than the movie—though the Sissy Spacek version is pretty darn scary. While I admire King, I confess that I have wimped out and gone for the film version over the books of many of his classics—It, The Shining, The Stand. Pathetic, I know.

Again, here’s the #SalemAlong welcome post and sign-up. Join us, if you dare…

If you love scary reads, also check out Murder, Monsters, and Mayhem aka #MX3, at Jenn’s Bookshelves, which celebrates horror/thriller/mystery books all month.

Salem's Lot TH#112263Along — readalong of 11/22/63

#DomeAlong — readalong of Under the Dome

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Jane's Fame LGIn 1820, three years after her death, Jane Austen’s publisher remaindered all copies of her books. She sunk into obscurity “out of print, out of demand, and almost out of mind.” Today, of course, Austen is a worldwide phenomenon.

Claire Harman offers an engrossing account of the erratic and somewhat inexorable rise of Austen’s popularity in Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World. Harman flavors her narrative with diverting bits of trivia, for example Rudyard Kipling was a fervent Janeite! He considered Austen’s gravesite at Winchester Cathedral to be the second holiest place in England after Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford.

Harman begins with a look at Jane the author. In particular, I was fascinated to learn that Austen devised a proto cut-and-paste approach to revision by pinning small paper cutouts with new wording over sections of a working draft.

Austen struggled, however, to get her works published. Ultimately she sold both Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice at somewhat bargain rates just to see them in print. The success of these books allowed her to get a better deal for Mansfield Park, which financially was her most successful work, earning her £30 a year. Emma, however, sold the most copies on its initial run.

Tragically, it was just as Austen was gaining success and recognition—albeit anonymously as her works were published by “a Lady”—that she died. Her tombstone made no mention of her as an author.

 

An 1816 first edition of Emma.

An 1816 first edition of Emma.

During the nearly 13 years her books were out of print, copies were treasured and traded by a niche of faithful readers, including several luminaries of the literary world. Sir Walter Scott had the full set and read Pride and Prejudice at least three times. Other admirers included Robert Southey, Maria Edgeworth, Benjamin Disreali, Lord Tennyson, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge—but not William Wordsworth because, according to Coleridge’s daughter, he had no sense of humor.

Both English and pirated translations of Austen’s novels were read in France, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and even in America. I was gobsmacked to learn that James Fenimore Cooper’s first novel was actually a reworking of Persuasion titled Precaution, which flopped.

In 1833, Austen’s books were reissued as part of low-cost series, Standard Novels, sort of the Penguin Classics of the day. These editions began to sell steadily, gaining steam as the Victorian age took hold. Interest in Austen the author also grew steadily, erupting by the 1870s into the cult of the “Divine Jane.” Noted literary critic Leslie Stephen, father of Virginia Woolf, lampooned this as “Austenolatry”—a riff on “Bardolatry” the cult of Shakespeare. Not long after, another critic named George Saintsbury coined the term “Janeite,” still so popular today. At Winchester Cathedral, so many visitors turned up looking for Austen that her nephew and biographer James Edward Austen-Leigh erected a memorial plaque.

Janes Fame pb

During World War I, Austen’s novels were a favorite among British soldiers and were well stocked in the trenches. They were also prescribed reading material to the wounded for their soothing and “salubrious” effects. By the 1920s, a “Janeite cabal” ran the Royal Society of Literature which would brook no criticism of the author. Beyond these hallowed halls, Austen had also exploded into the mainstream, via magazine articles, compilations, decorative special editions, and Austenalia: sequels and continuations of her novels. There was also a clamor for her letters, juvenilia, portraits, and any other related memorabilia, all of which were unearthed and published.

Jane had her share of detractors, though. Ralph Waldo Emerson had found her to be without genius or wit—a startling and somewhat paradoxical appraisal, but then he was rather severe. Surprisingly, Henry James felt she was overrated. Mark Twain’s derision of Austen has long been celebrated by her detractors, but what I didn’t know is that Twain repeatedly tried to read her works.

Still, Austen continued to gather fans: W.H. Auden, G.K. Chesterton, E.M. Forster, Katherine Mansfield, Rebecca West, and even the crotchety Winston Churchill. Another unlikely candidate, Aldous Huxley, wrote the screenplay for the first film adaption of Pride and Prejudice in 1940.

Memorial plaque honoring Austen at Winchester Cathedral.

Memorial tablet honoring Jane Austen at Winchester Cathedral.

There are so many other delicious tidbits, as Harman takes us through different film adaptations and pop-culture trends to the current online zeitgeist of fansites and blogs. But I don’t want to give away the too much of the book, which I highly recommend. Throughout, Harman manages to keep Jane very much in the present with anecdotes, family memories, quotes, and a clever musings as to how Austen would react to all this. Indeed, we all wonder and that’s part of what drives our Janeite mania.

Even after reading her novels, her letters, various biographies, and, yes, many of the Austenalia takeoffs—we still thirst for more of Jane Austen.

As Harman quotes Katherine Mansfield:

“The truth is that every true admirer of the novels cherishes the happy thought that he alone—reading between the lines—has become the secret friend of their author.”

I read this book as part of the Austen in August annual reading event hosted by Roof Beam Reader. #AusteninAugustRBR

Worn Out With Civility at Mansfield Park

Jane Austen, Genius of Economic Game Theory?

How Did I Not Know About Marvel’s Pride & Prejudice?

Kate Middleton Decried as Jane Austen Character

When Pride and Prejudice Clicks, from Boring to Brilliant

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