Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Pyx by John Buell

The Pyx is the story of Elizabeth Lucy, a high-end call girl who dies on the first page. The novel has many flavors: pulp noir, mystery and crime story, character study, tragedy, with some Satanism tossed in to make things even more spicy. The tale is told in alternating perspectives: 'The Present' features soul-deadened detective Henderson searching for clues and 'The Past' features soul-deadened Elizabeth, slowly moving towards her terminal destination but trying to do one last good thing. Her ending is one that she fears but somehow craves as well.
The Pyx - John BuellThe language has the brutal beauty of the best of pulp crime fiction. Hard-boiled and poetic in equal amounts, full of terse dialogue, barely understood longings, bleakly sardonic commentary on the smallness of lives, bottomless despair and monstrous cruelty conveyed in brief and ambiguous turns of phrase, paragraphs that describe the living breathing bustling world that suddenly end with an off-hand sentence describing bloodstains on a sidewalk. It is a beautiful novel and Elizabeth Lucy is one of the more memorable examples of the hardened prostitute with a heart of gold that I've read. The book is the same: deeply cynical and angrily pessimistic but allowing many characters - Elizabeth, Henderson, a sensitively rendered gay friend, a mourning father, an alcoholic priest, and several others - to show their souls in ways that are genuinely moving. The Pyx is a surprisingly soulful book, and I loved it for that.
It has a very an off-putting final chapter that reveals the mystery of the pyx and the motivations of the primary villain. It appears to be written by another person entirely - "Daniel Mannix" - but I don't know if that is true or not. The style is certainly different than anything that came before, so I'm inclined to believe it. The ending reminded me a lot of the ending of the film Psycho: that smarmy psychologist, attempting to render all of the strangeness and ambiguity that have come before his scene into something that is logical, even prosaic, an uncomfortable but still easily digestible set of formulaic motivations. And as with Psycho, the memory of all the strange ambiguity that came before renders The Pyx's final chapter as nothing more than a footnote. Or perhaps even just a wink to the reader, much as Hitchcock was winking to Psycho's audience. Sure, things can be explained, things that are horrible or beautiful or full of pathos or just unnervingly and threateningly weird. But can you ever truly explain away such things? And why would you want to? They defy explanation.

Worther or Mrs. Latimer would want the body, but alive, alive to peddle it, to feed it heroin, to dress it up, to make it entertain lechers who had nothing but money and erotic energy, to make it stop belonging to a human being, to make it wind up here with a long jump, or a long push.

She felt, not cut off, but far away from what was happening, the people existed just like a radio you've forgotten was on, and her walking was motion that she wanted to stop soon.

She said very quietly, "Coffee, please," and sat down at a table. A while ago, perhaps years, she would have noticed his action and smiled, enjoying the effect she had. She might even be pleased a little. But now, she couldn't be pleased or flattered by her beauty; it wasn't part of her consciousness; it was just a fact, a thing that was part of her life, something others thought she was lucky enough to have, something others wanted. She had no mental picture of herself as an outwardly visible person; she had only an inner vision of...

"Here's your coffee, miss."

Surviving the Taliban

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reading this book reminded me of how much I take for granted every day: Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. The freedom to go to the store without needing a male escort. And the ability to get an education, regardless of gender.

"I was a girl in a land where rifles are fired in celebration of a son, while daughters are hidden away behind a curtain, their role in life simply to prepare food and give birth to children."

Malala, who is now 16, is an outspoken advocate for girls to have the same right to go to school as boys. In her native Pakistan, she lost that ability when the Taliban took over: "I was 10 when the Taliban came to our valley ... It seemed to us that the Taliban arrived in the night just like vampires. They appeared in groups, armed with knives and Kalashnikovs ... They looked so dark and dirty and that my father's friend described them as 'people deprived of baths and barbers.'"

The Taliban started bombing schools and decreed that girls couldn't get an education. Malala's father was a school principal and encouraged her to speak out. She was only 15 at the time, but threats were made against her and her family. And in October 2012, when she was riding the school bus with her friends, a man with a gun climbed aboard the vehicle and shot Malala in the head.

Amazingly, Malala survived the bullet and was able to recover. She and her family currently live in England, but Malala writes about how much she misses her home country and wishes she could return to be with her friends. Her graciousness was such that she did not wish revenge on her attacker, and instead prays for peace.

"I thank Allah for the hardworking doctors, for my recovery and for sending us to this world where we may struggle for our survival. Some people choose good ways and some choose bad ways. One person's bullet hit me. It swelled my brain, stole my hearing and cut the nerve of my left face in the space of a second. And after that one second there were millions of people praying for my life and talented doctors who gave me my body back. I was a good girl. In my heart I had only the desire to help people."

Malala's story is both heartbreaking and inspiring. I admire her courage and her tenacity, and also hope that her country will one day find peace. "Why are we Muslims fighting with each other? ... We should focus on practical issues. We have so many people in our country who are illiterate, and many women have no education at all. We live in a place where schools are blown up. We have no reliable electricity supply. Not a single day passes without the killing of at least one Pakistani."

The book is lovingly written, and I also appreciated her stories about the history of Pakistan and her people, the Pashtuns. While reading the book I realized that I knew more about the history of other countries in the region, such as Afghanistan, Iran and India, than I did about Pakistan, and it was very informative. I would highly recommend the book to anyone interested in women's rights, current events, history or inspirational memoirs.

"Today we all know education is our basic right. Not just in the West; Islam too has given us this right. Islam says every girl and every boy should go to school. In the Quran it is written, God wants us to have knowledge. He wants us to know why the sky is blue and about oceans and stars ... The Taliban could take our pens and books, but they couldn't stop our minds from thinking."

Bridget Jones is Back!

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding
Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

When I heard that Helen Fielding had written a third book about Bridget Jones, I was a bit perplexed because I wasn't sure whether the quirky antics of the scattered, 30-something Bridget would still be amusing in a 50-something mother. But it was surprisingly fun to read about her adventures in dating and parenthood. The book made me laugh out loud several times, and I often found myself smiling while I read.

The novel opens with Bridget excited about dating a younger man and writing a screenplay, in addition to being a single parent of two children. As you may have already heard -- and which is revealed early in the book -- Bridget's husband, the wonderful Mr. Mark Darcy, was killed in an accident while working in Africa, and now she is finally coming out of her grief and depression to start dating again.

I think so many women fell in love with the Bridget Jones books (and the delightful movie versions) because she allowed us to laugh at ourselves and our funny obsessions with dieting and men and self-improvement projects. It was smart of Helen Fielding to update the story because that generation of women has matured and now has other issues to deal with, and who better to help us cope with laughter than our dear old friend Bridget?

One new thing that Bridget tries is social media. She opens a Twitter account and quickly gets obsessed with how many followers she has. She feels pressure to tweet clever things, and then embarrassment after tweeting while drunk. And when she meets a young man on Twitter she likes to flirt with, she learns how much fun texting can be:

"The fantastic thing about texting is that it allows you to have an instant, intimate emotional relationship giving each other a running commentary on your lives, without taking up any time whatsoever or involving meetings or arrangements or any of the complicated things which take place in the boring old non-cyber world. apart from sex, it would be perfectly possible to have an entire relationship that is much closer and healthier than many traditional marriages without actually meeting in person at all!"

In addition to the humor of modern life, there is also a sweet side to the story. Bridget genuinely loved her husband and was devastated by his death. Her plans for self-improvement and forced cheerfulness are so touching because she is desperately trying to be a good mum to her kids, even though she'd rather stay in bed, wallow in her grief and eat chocolate ice cream.

If you enjoyed the first two Bridget Jones books, you will probably like this one. There is humor, there is romance, and there is even a happy ending. I declare it to be v. v. good. 

Special Guest Post by Steven White: Q & A with Preston & Child (With a Giveaway)!

Steven White of Rainy Day Reading List recently conducted a Q & A with Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child and was kind enough to let us host it.  Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway at the bottom of the page to enter a drawing for an ARC of White Fire!

First, thank you so much for writing one of my favorite series of all times and providing years and hundreds of hours of enjoyable reads (and rereads!), and for taking the time out to answer a few questions for your fans!

Preston & Child: Thank you for having us and for all those kind words! We look forward to your questions.

1. In White Fire, you decided to create a chance encounter between Oscar Wilde and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that ended up being the missing link that Pendergast needed to solve the case. What led you to choose these two authors? Was it nerve-wracking to write an “offical” Sherlock Holmes tale to include in White Fire’s plot, with the permission of the Conan Doyle estate of course? Was it hard to jump into the mindset of an author long dead and try to make it sound like it was in his voice? What did the estate think of your idea and eventual story? Was Sherlock Holmes any inspiration during your creation and development of Pendergast?

Linc: By happenstance, I learned about a true incident in which Conan Doyle had dinner with Oscar Wilde at a posh London hotel. This was mind-blowing; I couldn’t imagine two more different writers. What could they have talked about? I knew there was a book in there somewhere, and an immediate brainstorming session with Doug brought the bones of that book together.

Yes, it was a little nerve-wracking to write an officially sanctioned Sherlock Holmes story. Holmes was, after all, one of the numerous inspirations for Pendergast (as you surmise). And the Estate needed to see the opening of the story before they would give permission. So for a week I did little but surround myself with actual stories from the Holmes canon. Then I took a deep breath and forged ahead with the first draft. Luckily, with Doug’s help, everything worked out splendidly.

Doug: It was amazing to see how the idea developed. Once Linc had come up with the opening concept, I suggested a setting of Aspen, Colorado, because I thought the idea of Pendergast in his black suit and vicuña overcoat knocking around that chic and fashionable ski resort, like a fish out of water, was just too good to pass up. (We eventually changed the name of the town to Roaring Fork, because we wanted to alter some historical and geographical details.) I also suggested a back-story involving man-eating grizzly bear attacks, the digging up of a historic cemetery to make way for development, and a serial arsonist burning down multi-million dollar mansions—with the families inside. All these elements were woven together to create a seamless story. It was a great example of our writing partnership working at its most creative pitch.

2. As a team, you both put a lot of thought into your titles. I remember submitting ideas for Two Graves, but then loving the final title so much better than my suggestions. What other ideas were thrown out while writing White Fire, and what made you settle on White Fire?

Linc: Our working title for the book was BANE. Our publisher wasn’t happy with that, and so we started the process of bouncing possible titles back and forth. At the time, I was reading the biography of a famous horror writer, and at one point in it the title of a very old book—I believe it was a collection of poetry, but I’m not even sure it was ever published—was mentioned in passing. That title was WHITE FIRE. It seemed perfect to me for our use, referencing as it did both the snowstorm and the dreadful arsons that together dominate the story (in addition to being an arresting image on its own.) Our publisher agreed.

3. I’m constantly trying to get new readers to join the Pendergast fan club. I want the series to keep going for years to come! I sometimes have trouble describing the series to them though, as it’s so many things -- mystery, thriller, history lesson, detective novel, horror story, techno/supernatural tale… If you had to describe your works for a new set of readers, how would you describe it?

Doug: We have the same trouble ourselves, and I’ve noticed that bookstores put the books all over the place in various sections. The Pendergast books contain a taste of all those genres. But what brings it all together is the unique character of Pendergast himself, who is a man out of his time, the embodiment of old-fashioned values, codes of conduct, and civility that have largely been lost in the modern age—combined with a strong sense of justice, a hatred of bullies, and a love of fine food and wine.

4. Do you plan on bringing back the new character, Stacy? I really liked her! What about some of our other cast members, like Nora Kelly, Margo Greene, Viola Maskelene, or others? We all know you’ll bring D’Agosta and Hayward back in the future already! Haha! What about Diogenes? Any chance he escaped death and will return?

Doug: After all these novels, we’ve created a kind of alternate reality, populated with a wide cast of characters. Stacy is a wonderful character and I would love to see her in another book, so I would say that is quite possible. Margo plays a major role in the Pendergast book we are now writing. Nora will surely appear in the future. Viola Maskelene… Well, maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but her relationship with Pendergast is firmly over, and she will not appear in a future book. As for Diogenes, I will only say this… did anyone see his dead body?

5. Is the next Pendergast book in the works already? Any tidbits you can share about that one?

Linc: I wish I could, but we’re keeping the details close to the vest for the time being. We can confirm, however, that it will be a standalone book, and not the start of a trilogy.

Doug: A hint: a terrifying sequence takes place in the ruins of an abandoned resort on the shores of the Salton Sea in California…

6. You’ve also co-written other books together, most recently the Gideon Crew novels. When can we expect a third installment of that exciting series? Will there ever be any more of a crossover other than Eli Glinn’s presence?

Doug: Yes, and the next Gideon Crew novel, entitled THE LOST ISLAND, will be published in the late summer of 2014. It is a story involving an ancient illuminated manuscript, a mysterious map, and a harrowing journey through an isolated and forgotten corner of the Caribbean Sea.

Linc: There will be a fourth installment in the Gideon series, and there will be what we think is a huge crossover into one of our early novels. Our projected title alone probably says it better than I could: BEYOND THE ICE LIMIT.

7. Do you plan on releasing any more short stories like Extraction? It was a fun story, and a good way to help satiate some of your fans’ ravenous hunger for more Pendergast!

Doug: Absolutely. We are working on some wild ideas for a Pendergast story. Those who subscribe to our newsletter, “The Pendergast File,” will get advance notice.


8. Mr. Child, I read The Third Gate last year and really loved it! Any plans on writing another book with Jeremy Logan? I very much enjoyed his character and would love to see him return! Or maybe one of the protagonists from Terminal Freeze or Deep Storm?

Linc: Thank you so much! Yes, I am hard at work on another novel featuring the ‘enigmalogist’ Jeremy Logan, and I’m very excited about how it’s progressing.

9. Mr. Preston, I’d love to see another book starring Wyman Ford soon, or maybe a return of Tom and Sally in one of those Wyman Ford books. Any updates on when we’ll get another Ford book?

Doug: Yes. My next solo novel, entitled THE KRAKEN MISSION, will be published in May of 2014. It stars Wyman Ford.

10. Lastly, as both of your started out as editors, do you have any tips on writing for other aspiring authors? Did that experience as editors help you in your own writing, or did you prove, like doctors, to be a “terrible patient” if you will?

Again, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedules of writing and being awesome to answer a few questions for your fans! We (and by we, I definitely mean *ME!!!*) can’t wait for more Pendergast, and honestly, anything else with Preston or Child on the cover. Thanks for a fantastic new installment in the epic saga that is the Pendergast series, and for more Corrie!

Doug: Our experience as editors definitely helped. Honestly, seeing what doesn’t work in other people’s manuscripts is a great help, so we know what to avoid. That may be even more valuable than figuring out what works. As for tips, my advice to the aspiring writer is to write every day. Just as violinists must practice daily and marathon runners must run, writers must write. It seems obvious, but you would be surprised at how many writers only sit down to work once or twice a week. You have to do it every day and you have to carve out a sacred, inviolate period of time to do it in, and be sure your family and friends are instructed not to disturb you during that time! My second tip is to get involved in a writers’ group, where you read and critique each other’s work.

Thank you for the great questions and for all your kind words about our books! We love interacting with readers through email, which we answer http://www.prestonchild.com/faq/contact/Contact-the-Authors;art137,173

and through our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/PrestonandChild

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Special Guest Post by Steven White: White Fire (and a Giveaway)

Review of Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child’s White Fire

(Release Date: November 12, 2013)

Published by Grand Central Publishing, the Hachette Book Group
Review by: Steven White of Rainy Day Reading List

Corrie Swanson needs to make a huge splash on her thesis, as she’s competing in John Jay College’s Rosewell Prize for Outstanding thesis and a junior, like her, has never won before. After a few failed attempts to pitch ideas to her advisor, a conversation with the College’s museum/library coordinator leads her to an interesting tale: Oscar Wilde, famed author, heard tales of bear attacks in Roaring Fork, Colorado, in which the bears devoured the victims. Thinking that she could provide a huge contribution to research in the area of animal markings left on bones, she forces her advisor’s hand into approval and sets out to the rich tourist trap of a town. The ski resort city, while at first seeming to be friendly and willing to lend her a hand, soon closes the proverbial doors on her. Things escalate, leaving Corrie in prison for a simple B&E, and Pendergast steps in. Good thing too, because Corrie’s discoveries reveal that it was something other than a bear that ate those miners a century before… and soon, a serial arson killer joins the fray. The slow burn becomes a raging fire and a race against time as three massive storylines, along with a Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle thread, reach an explosive, fiery finish.

Wow, what a ride! This might just be my favorite entry to the series since Book of the Dead. Not to say there haven’t been some great books since the end of the Diogenes trilogy, but this one really raises the bar. Fast-paced, chock full of murders, Sherlock Holmes, shocking twists near the end, great new characters, and even a moment of Pendergast showing some real emotion.

There are three main storylines in White Fire:
1. Corrie’s thesis project, based around the bodies of 9 miners who had been killed and eaten by *something* in the 1870s, when the town was still a huge mining area rather than a ritzy ski resort -- and the powers controlling the town fighting against her solving the mystery.
2. A serial killer and arsonist, murdering townie after townie and burning their bodies and their homes, as Pendergast works with local law enforcement (who are in over their heads with said killer) to catch them as soon as possible.
3. The search for a lost Sherlock Holmes story that Conan Doyle wrote after hearing a disturbing tale from Oscar Wilde at a chance dinner meeting.

All three of them are done well and integrated seamlessly into one big novel. The ending is cringeworthy, in a good way… it will have you on the edge of your seat as you await the conclusion, which ties up well, and hopefully has brought a new character into our beloved cast of recurring players.

Overall, I give this story a 5 out of 5 stars. One of my favorite reads of the year, and one of my favorite entries of the series, right up there with Still Life with Crows, Book of the Dead, and my personal number one, Cabinet of Curiosities.

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*I was provided an ARC for review by the publisher and Netgalley.