Author Rating: D

The Handmaid’s Tale (listened to audiobook read by Claire Danes, March 2017; not recommended)

This will be an unpopular opinion but this book is terrible. It’s boring. Twenty-five chapters in and I want to slap the main character, Offred. Just eat the fucking toast already.

I do not understand why this novel is recommended so glowingly by so many. Has anyone actually read it since they were 14, in 1985?  I don’t believe in the dull, gray world, and I have been given no reason to care about any of the characters, least of all the main character, Offred, who is as appealing as gray washwater.

It’s hard to find really good speculative fiction. This doesn’t even rise to the level of passable.   Claire Danes might be a good reader. It’s hard to say given how unremittingly dreary and uninspired this particular book is.


Author Rating: A

The Thirty-Nine Steps (read 9/6/2014)

First published as a magazine serial in the last half of 1915, this is the first of five novels featuring Richard Hannay, adventure hero.

The Thirty-Nine Steps is one of the earliest examples of the ‘man-on-the-run’ thriller archetype subsequently adopted by Hollywood as an often-used plot device. In The Thirty-Nine Steps, Buchan holds up Richard Hannay as an example to his readers of an ordinary man who puts his country’s interests before his own safety. The story was a great success with the men in the First World War trenches. One soldier wrote to Buchan, “The story is greatly appreciated in the midst of mud and rain and shells, and all that could make trench life depressing.”

Richard Hannay continued his adventures in four subsequent books. Two were set during the war when Hannay continued his undercover work against the Germans and their allies the Turks in Greenmantle and Mr Standfast. The other two stories, The Three Hostages and The Island of Sheep were set in the post war period when Hannay’s opponents were criminal gangs.

I listened to the Librivox recording read by Adrian Praetellis and enjoyed it very much. I will be on the lookout for Buchan’s other novels.

Author Rating: A

Life of Pi (read 2/9/13) Highly recommended

Mr. and Mrs. Patel, their two sons, Ravi and Piscine “Pi” Molitor Patel, are emigrating to Canada, by cargo ship, when it sinks, leaving Pi and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker as the sole survivors. It’s a wonderful story, beautifully written. Like Water For Elephants, the story is presented as having been told to the author by the central character.

Author Rating: A+

Deptford Trilogy:

Of Davies’ three trilogies, this is my favorite — “a glittering, fantastical, cunningly contrived series of novels, around which a mysterious death is woven.” Individual reviews of the books can be found at the links.

Salterton Trilogy:

Reviewer E.A. Solinas at Amazon sums them up better than I can.

  • Tempost-Tost (read 12/5/07) recommended

Tempest-Tost opens with the organization of an amateur production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A motley crew of actors join it, including an exuberant professor, his quiet daughter, a quiet mama’s boy, a beautiful rich girl, a womanizing soldier, and an infatuated schoolteacher. Love, ambition, jealousy and infatuation rapidly tangle together, climaxing in an unusually dramatic opening night.

  • Leaven of Malice (read 12/6/07) recommended

Leaven of Malice is half satire and half mystery. The Salterton Bellman announces that Solly Bridgetower and Pearl Vambrace are engaged — the only problem is that it isn’t true. Professor Vambrace sees it as a personal affront, and sues the paper. Pearl and Solly are haunted by false rumors, reports, and claims about who faked the announcement. All they can do is try to find out themselves.

  • A Mixture of Frailties (read 12/8/07) recommended

A Mixture of Frailties opens with the death of Solly’s domineering mother. Her will leaves money to Solly’s family only if he produces a male heir with his wife Veronica (previously known as Pearl); until then, her money is to be used in a trust for a young female artistic hopeful, who will go to Europe for a few years to study whatever she is good at. And finding the right girl is only the start of Solly’s problems.

Cornish Trilogy:

  • The Rebel Angels (read 9/6/07) recommended
  • Bred In The Bone (read 9/25/07) recommended)
  • The Lyre of Orpheus (read 10/19/07) recommended

(Jack Illingworth) The Rebel Angels revolves around the execution of a difficult will. In this case, the estate is of one Francis Cornish, a fantastically rich patron and collector of Canadian art and a noted antiquarian bibliophile. A lost Rabelais manuscript is rumoured to be among his possessions, and his executors include the deliciously revolting Renaissance scholar Urquhart McVarish; Professor Clement Hollier, a classically middle-aged inhabitant of the ivory tower; and the Reverend Simon Darcourt, Davies’s obligatory humanist clergyman. A heroine is provided in the form of Maria Theotoky, a beautiful Ph.D. student of Professor Hollier’s. A rich, funny, and slightly ribald campus novel results, one that revels in the fustian of the now-vanished pre-postmodern university.

The Cornish Trilogy is by far the most arcane of Davies’s major works. The later volumes, What’s Bred in the Bone and The Lyre of Orpheus, extend out of the corporeal world, bringing angels, daimons, and souls in limbo into the fray.

Did Davies adapt parts of Han van Meegeren‘s story in creating Francis Cornish?

Author Rating: D

Murder Sees The Light (read 6/29/08) Meh.

I sought this author out after reading a recommendation in an interview of Donald E. Westlake. I was very disappointed. This has got to be some of the most boring mystery writing there is. I tried a second by Engel but was so bored with it after only a few pages that I did not even bother to write down the title. I won’t waste my time on a further attempt.

Author Rating: A

Trader (read 11/13/07) Recommended

Good young-adult book about the power of positive thinking and acting. Examines idea of belief, use of spirit world to gain understanding. A man wakes to discover he is in someone else’s body and they are in his. The story is a journey to discovering who he is and what he needs to do to make himself whole and avoid being commandeered again. A whole host of sympathetic, well drawn characters.

Must be a Canadian thing, de Lint’s linguistic quirk “little say.”

World of Wonders (1975) is the third in the Deptford Trilogy by Canadian writer Robertson Davies (1913-1995), the first being Fifth Business and The Manticore the second.

Of Davies’ three trilogies, this is my favorite — “a glittering, fantastical, cunningly contrived series of novels, around which a mysterious death is woven.”

Ramsay reprises the role of narrator that he played in the first novel, Fifth Business, but in this case it is only to add context and continuity as conjuror/magician Magnus Eisengrim (also known by at least four other names throughout the trilogy) tells the story of his life to a group of film makers making a biographical film about the great magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin.

As Eisengrim tells his story, Ramsay’s role in his own life, and that of his friends and family, is more clearly understood, the riddle is at least partially solved.

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