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Archive for November, 2013

We will meet on Wednesday, December 18th @ 7:00 p.m. to discuss The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick

Jerry Culpepper was proud to be NASA’s public affairs director, long after the first moon landing, budget cutbacks, and public disinterest. Now a 50-year old secret about the Apollo XI mission embroils him in controversy and tests his willingness to spin the truth about a conspiracy of reality-altering proportions.  (summary courtesy of Goodreads)

 

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We met last night to discuss The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.   We had a particularly lively discussion (which was great!), so I’ll try to hit some of the highlights of what people (using aliases for those who want them) said:

  • Hola began by saying she liked the book …. but had some frustrations with it.  She found it hard to get invested in characters who were like gods, because she didn’t worry about them.  She also felt the characters weren’t really developed, and also said that she thought the book was pretty and magical, but wanted more plot than: “I made you pretty stuff.  I made you pretty stuff!”   She did appreciate the old-school magic in the book, like the tarot, and reading the stars.  But, while there were a lot of interesting characters, but she wanted more about them.   She also felt that she found Marco’s treatment of Isobel to be disturbing.
  • We had some general discussion about Marco and Isobel.  Derek mentioned that he didn’t feel that Marco was leading her on, and Jen said that it came across to her that perhaps Marco thought they had an understanding (between himself and Isobel) and thus was kind of clueless as to how she felt.  Derek said the addition of Isobel is a good complication to the story; we see Marco and Celia heading towards one another, but Isobel is a complication to that.   Theresa asked if anyone else wondered if, when Isobel met Marco, that it was really Celia in disguise.  This led some discussion about these three characters, and how they are linked together.
  • A few readers felt the ending of the story was a bit rushed.  Hola wondered why it had to be extreme, that one person would have to die.  Derek stated that this wasn’t something that had to happen, but just usually did when there was a competition.  She said this was an illustration of why Prospero and Mr. A. H__ didn’t want them to collaborate.   Hola pointed out that a circus is, by nature, a collaborative kind of thing, so it’s interesting that they would choose a circus.  Derek said that it seems with the competition that it’s more about endurance than anything else; how can you live with yourself and the consequences of how what you do affects other people?
  • We also had some general discussion about some of the Shakespearean and Arthurian elements of the book.   Both Theresa and Glenn wondered, after the tree story was told, if some of the characters would be Merlin’s descendants.   Derek agreed, wondering just how long Prospero and Mr. A.H_____ had been around.   Menolly said it seemed to her that Prospero was Mr. A.H__’s assistant, which would explain some things in the story, as well.    Derek mentioned that there is an especially good production of The Tempest on DVD, starring Helen Mirren – so I’m providing a link to more information.   We do have this DVD in the library.
  • Taylor stated that she thoroughly enjoyed the book, and loved reading about the characters.  She thought the writing style was rich and very descriptive, and really enjoyed the addition of writing little interludes in second person, which she felt added to the atmosphere of the story.  She said, “It was brilliant – thank you to whomever recommended this book for us to read.”      Theresa agreed with her point about the interludes, and said it was a fantastic way to look at the circus as we do, from the outside, and also to give us Widget’s perspective in a unique way.
  • Not everyone was as enthused with the book (which is perfectly okay, of course).  Mike said the book was filled with characters that he really didn’t care about, and that the pace was way too slow.  He found the circus, itself, to be fascinating, but nothing felt like it was happening.  While he loved the descriptive writing about the circus, the slow pace was frustrating, and he ran out of time to read it before our meeting.   This sentiment about the slow pace and the characters was echoed by a few other readers, as well.    Nathan mentioned he was particularly turned off by the violent treatment of Celia by Prospero.
  • The fact that the story would jump back and forth in time was something that was met with mixed reactions.  Some readers took notes to keep track of what was happening, while others just kept a finger in a previous chapter to keep track.  Derek said he liked how this would set up a conflict that started to converge as the story continued.  There was some general agreement among many readers that while the time-jumping could have been done better by the author, it certainly could have been much worse.
  • Kathleen said that when she was reading, it felt like there was an undercurrent going on, and that this is a book that can be read in different layers.  She started feeling it was a commentary on how we live our lives, and nature versus nurture.  Celia and Marco, as children, are crafted into tools by two truly uncaring people, and yet they both seem to retain some humanity.  She felt that the book’s being written in present tense make this all feel more immediate, and looking back at it, she felt it was perfect for what the author seemed like she was trying to do with the story.  She said “It’s an extraordinary work.”  And on the subject of the characters seeming flat, she felt that instead, they were very subtle — every gesture and glance has layers of meaning.   Other readers agreed that the book does feel multi-layered, where you can enjoy it both on the surface, and on a deeper level.
  • Burt Macklin, FBI, said that while he really enjoyed listening to the audiobook (read by Jim Dale, and absolutely wonderfully done), he was somewhat torn on the actual book.  He gave the story being told a B, but the setting an A+.  He really loved the descriptions of the Night Circus, and would have been really willing to read just a description of the various tents and performances.  He thought it would be really nice if the author could publish a “reprint” of all of Herr Thiessen’s articles about the circus (and this idea was met with a lot of enthusiasm).   However, he did find the background story to be somewhat lacking, perhaps because Marco and Celia didn’t directly interact until pretty late in the story, and also because their love story seemed a bit abrupt.  He also was hoping that the end solution would be for the circus to survive, that it would have to give up its magic, and have to rely on more conventional means of traveling and performing.  While he didn’t mind the idea of Bailey taking over, he found it distasteful that he was bound to the circus and was giving up his free will to ever leave (even though he agreed to), thus continuing the cycle of selfishness.     This last comment led the group to some general discussion about Bailey, and the ending, and what his decision meant.
  • We talked about the author’s writing style, which was something that some reviews (New York Times, The Guardian) were not enthused with.     Many readers really enjoyed the author’s descriptive writing style.   Theresa said the writing wasn’t just visual, but olfactory, as well.  Hola said, though, that from the description of the book, she expected more excitement and instead, said it “was like watching butterflies fight.”    Menolly said that she felt it was apparently that the author is a multimedia artist.  To her, the circus was the main character, and the author’s writing meant that you can see it, feel it, smell it, etc.
  • Jen said that one of the things she particularly enjoyed was so many things were unexpected, whether it’s something in the story or something the author does.  She also liked how Bailey expected an American-style circus, and the Night Circus is a European-style circus.   Derek commented that it’s definitely an example of spectacle versus subtlety.
  • And speaking of the main characters (or whether they were or not), we had some discussion about them.  Derek said that you’d expect them to be more developed and instead, they are somewhat static and flat.  However, he said, in a weird sense, it allows there to be more focus on the consequences of their competition than on themselves.  It’s all about everything that happens to everyone else.    Menolly pointed out that it’s interesting that Mr. A. H___ and Prospero obviously don’t care, although Celia and Marco do.
  • Many readers enjoyed the supporting characters quite a bit.  We had some definite Bailey fans, although other characters were mentioned, as well.   Prospero and Mr. A. H__ seemed to elicit a general feeling of dislike among readers.  As Derek put it, “We’ve already establish that these guys are dicks.”
  • The romance between Marco and Celia was touched upon, with varied opinions.  Hola said she felt the romance was a failure, because of the characters, and stated, “They SO bland!” Glenn said that he liked the romance, and felt it was authentic to the time period, so it was more subtle.
  • We did talk about the ending of the book, which readers seemed to have mixed feelings about.  Hola wondered what other people thought, and if it made sense to everyone.   Some readers felt that they were okay with some of the lack of explanation, and that it added to the overall mystery of the book.    Hola stated that she felt at the end, that it isn’t really explained enough.  This led us back into our discussion of Bailey, and the choices he makes at the end of the story.

We gave the book the codes: MAG. YA, ROM, IMM and the averaged-out rating was a 4.    We welcome more discussion, so please feel free to leave a comment!

Our next book is: The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt, and we’ll meet on December 18th @ 7:00 p.m.

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Here is the list of other books that people mentioned at our November meeting — extra books-Nov discussion

The Mongoliad (series) by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, and others

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Dry Water by Eric Nylund

Sweet Tooth series by Jeff Lemire

The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

Echo by Terry Moore

Redemption Ark by Alastair Reynolds

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

Velveteen Vs series by Seanan McGuire

Neptune’s Brood by Charles Stross

Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo

 

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Since we’ll be discussing The Night Circus this coming Wednesday, I thought I’d post some additional information, for anyone who might be interested.

The review from NPR — and the review from The New York Times

And Author Magazine has an interview with the author on YouTube.      Erin Morgenstern does have a website, and also a blog, if you’d like to see what she’s up to these days.

 

 

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The 2013 World Fantasy Award winners have been announced!   You may find all nominees and information HERE —  and I’m including the info on the nominees and winner in the Novel category:

(Winners in bold below)

Novel

  • The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
  • Some Kind of Fairy Tale, Graham Joyce (Gollancz; Doubleday)
  • The Drowning Girl, Caitlin R. Kiernan (Roc)
  • Crandolin, Anna Tambour (Chomu)
  • Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson (Grove; Corvus)

 

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I think it’s great that we all read such a variety of books — and these are the ones mentioned at our October meeting:

The Legend of Eli Monpress series by Rachel Aaron (The Spirit Thief, The Spirit Rebellion, The Spirit Eater, The Spirit War, Spirit End)

The Poison series by Maria V. Snyder (Poison Study, Magic Study, Fire Study) and the spin-off series, The Opal Cowan series (Storm Glass, Sea Glass, Spy Glass)extra books-oct 13

And the Clients Went Wild by Maribeth Kuzmeski

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

Lone Wolf and Cub series by Kazuo Koike

The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman

Attemping Normal by Marc Maron

Brief Lives (Sandman series) by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Psalms of Isaak series by Ken Scholes (Lamentation, Canticle, Antiphon, Requiem)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick Offerman

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We met on October 30th to discuss Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder.  As always, we had a great and lively discussion — and I’ll try to hit some of the highlights of what people (via alias for some) had to say:

  • Mike stated that he liked the book and found it very readable.  He found it interesting, and especially liked the two different societies (the one under the previous King, and the newer leader).  He had been hoping the author would delve into this a bit more.  He also mentioned that he found the story interesting, but felt it got a little weird at the end (“It got kinda sappy.”)
  • Glenn said he had been hoping for a more interesting romance in the story, but that it came off as a bit immature.  A few other people said they thought this was because the character of Yelena was pretty inexperienced, so this might have been why it felt that way.
  • We talked generally about some of the characters, like Yelena and Valek.  Furry said she felt that Valek was a bit of a Mary Sue (or a Gary Stu): he’s handsome, he’s smart … is there anything he can’t do?   As she said, “What other talents could he have?”  Well, that led to a few comments…..    Readers also talked about the Commander, and how there seemed to sometimes be qualities in that character that were at odds with one another (for example, Theresa pointed out that the same person who spares a young person’s life for talking back to her teacher is the same person who banishes Yelena because of her magic).
  • And speaking of characters, there were a few mixed reactions to Yelena.  Overall, readers seemed to like her, although Hola pointed out what she saw to be some inconsistencies (and also the fact that , “Of course, she’s a magical princess.”)  Klaupaucius said that he liked the interplay between the different characters, like Yelena and Margg, and others.
  • Furry said that she found the differences between the monarchy and the military to be interesting, and thought it was different for a fantasy novel to have this much focus on that (considering that it’s usually science fiction that has that).    Hola agreed, and that she found that fascinating, as well.
  • Not everyone found the book to be fascinating, though.  Burt Macklin, FBI said he found the book to be mediocre.  He felt Yelena was a strong character at the beginning (which he liked), but then felt she was expecting a rescue by the end of the book.    Kathleen said she felt the book had a strong start, but at the end, when she started thinking back, she found elements that were a little irritating.  She liked it overall, but, for example, was thrown off by the anachronistic language in parts (and this was something other readers mentioned, as well).  She thought the language was too modern, and sporadically like this, which was frustrating.
  • Derek stated that he found that overall, there were some things that kept his interest, and that there were lots of twists and turns.  He was impressed that Yelena and Varek didn’t wind up together sooner, and was amazed at how long the author held out.  He mentioned that he found the whole thing with the Commander to be interesting, as well, and found she had an odd strength/weakness going on.
  • Nicole stated that she really enjoyed this book, and she didn’t read too much into it.  She has read the other books in the series, and said that the author develops the characters, and the plot, much more as you progress.  Other people agreed that the other books were good — so if you like this book, definitely pick up one of the others.   Menolly said she found the book to be a page-turner.  She thought it was a great hero story (although a little formulaic at times) and that it had a lot of unique elements, like the poisons.    Klaupaucius, as well, said it was a page-turner.  He liked how some characters would start off with one stance towards one another, and then it would flip.
  • On the subject of the different poisons, some readers mentioned that was an element of the book they really liked.  Naberius mentioned a nonfiction book she enjoyed, The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum, which is about the birth of forensic medicine, and which features many poisons.  She liked how the poisons in the book mirrored some real poisons in our own world.
  • Many people mentioned they wanted a map in the book, so they could have some idea of geography.  This apparently was inconsistent in the different editions of the book — some had a map, and some did not.  Hola said the different districts in the book reminded her of the districts in The Hunger Games (because they were broken down into this one makes that, etc.)
  • The one other thing that many readers mentioned was the romantic scene in the dungeon.  This made some readers feel … squinchy (thank you, Theresa, for that word choice!).  Readers found the overall tone of this scene was odd.  As Kathleen said, she was “grossed out completely,” and that while she understood the power of a redemptive act to heal …. well, she just was grossed out.  We talked about the tone of the scene, and whether it was written that way because Yelena is pretty immature, sexuality-wise.

This is the first book in a series: 1) Poison Study; 2) Magic Study; 3) Fire Study

We gave the book these codes: MAG, SAS, POL, MIL, NARC and the averaged-out rating was a 3.5

We welcome the opportunity to continue the conversation, so comments are welcome!

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