Monday, December 28, 2009

Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

When it all comes down to it, which wins out: nature or nurture? Does the situation shape the person you become or are you that person regardless of situation? Does it matter if that person is a Princess?

Spindle's End is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Just as in the story, evil fairy Pernicia curses the infant princess at her christening to prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her twenty-first birthday and die. The baby is taken away by young fairy apprentice Katriona and raised by her and her aunt as an ordinary young girl. Nobody else knows that Rosie is really the princess, not even Rosie herself, until the truth is revealed to her just before her twenty-first birthday. Rosie has to struggle to come to grips with the two opposing sides of her identity: ordinary Rosie, who she was raised to be and actually was in the first place, and the Princess, someone she cannot identify with at all, but still who she is. Because only the princess can defeat Pernicia, Rosie must embrace the title to defeat the evil fairy.

Normally, I find anything containing fairies (Especially "faeries," ugh.) to be off-putting, to say the least. However, I really liked Spindle's End. What I enjoy the most about the book was how rich Robin McKinley's writing can be. Descriptions of magic and the uses of magic really sold me on the book. I admit that there were several times when I lost my grips on the action, especially towards the end, and I often had difficulty remembering who minor characters were when they were suddenly mentioned again 50 pages or so after they were introduced. Still, I far preferred this retelling to others I have read by Gregory Maguire. His works insert too much reality into fantasy for my taste. I prefer to keep a bit of the magic around. Flaws aside, Spindle's End was chock full of magic (And baby-magic, which is a term I love).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman

I love Chuck Klosterman. Two years ago I didn't even know who Chuck Klosterman is. While scanning the bargain books at my place of employment, I found Killing Yourself to Live, read the inside flap and bought the book. I then read the book, loved it, and read Chuck Klosterman IV and Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. There is just a certain way that Klosterman writes that brings together ideas, concepts, and people in ways that I never considered before, but ways that actually make sense. Eating the Dinosaur is the usual fare, and I enjoyed it the whole way through.

The book is divided into chapters and the chapters are divided into smaller numbered and lettered sections. These sections can sometimes meander away from the topic at hand, but everything comes together in the end to make a point about why people answer interview questions or the truths about irony as expressed by Weezer and Ralph Nader.

I admit that when I saw the chapter entitled "Football," I wasn't looking forward to reading it, especially when I saw the diagram of a play on the first page. It's not as though I hate football. I don't really think about it much in my every day life. It seemed like an achievement to me that I actually read the whole chapter even with footnotes advising a football-illiterate like me to turn back. Still, I persevered and even learned some thing about football, spread offensive, and the liberal nature of the game. It's difficult not to show at least a little appreciation for the sport when it inspired my favorite quote of the book:

Football allows the intellectual part of my brain to evolve, but it allows the emotional part to remain unchanged. It has a liberal cerebellum and a reactionary heart. And this is all I want from everything, all the time, always.

Additionally, I enjoyed the chapter on Klosterman's hatred of laugh tracks. I regularly watch "How I Met Your Mother," but I am so used to shows without a track that I often forget about all that background noise. Tonight, however, I was hyper aware of every single laugh, chuckle, giggle, cheer, etc. It was disconcerting, to say the least.

So, if you're still around, I recommend Eating the Dinosaur. You know, the book, not eating an actual dinosaur (That would have worked better out loud).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks

Vampires are majorly in at the moment. It's easy to see the appeal of the vampire lifestyle. Vampires are strong, fast, occasionally sparkly, and they stay young forever. Popular cultural has been romanticizing the vampire from Dracula to Stephenie Meyer. The Reformed Vampire Support Group presents a far different breed of vampire.

They are reformed, like in Twilight, so they don't drink from humans and instead breed guinea pigs for blood. Unfortunately, they are incredibly sickly and have a tendency towards nausea. Vampires need a supplement every day with blood or they will eventually pass out. They cannot go out in the sun and in fact actually black out when day breaks. They try to function as best as possible without drawing attention to themselves for fear that the public will turn against them. These limitations lead to some boring vampires.

The book is narrated by Nina, who was turned when she was 15. She spends her time writing a series of novels featuring vampire Zadia Bloodstone. Zadia is the ideal vampire in that she actually does things. Most vampires around her actually never do anything but take up space. Therefore, Nina equates vampire with useless and demonstrates almost a self hatred in her view of vampires.

The catalyst of the story occurs when one of the vampires is found as a pile of ashes with a stake through his heart and a silver bullet lodged in the wall. The bullet leads them on a hunt for the killer and to encounters with a werewolf fighting ring. Without giving away any more, The Reformed Vampire Support Group was a refreshing change from the typical vampire book. It also accomplished something seemingly impossible in that it is actually a believable vampire story.