Friday, November 3, 2017

count of monte cristo ii

What a monster of a novel! Nearly 1500 pages of Victorian era melodrama. yeah, bring it on!

Alexandre Dumas, nice work, my pal.* You'd think by now, I'd have read everything this man has written, but alas. I guess I'll have to get busy. Dumas, often titled, père (father)--to distinguish him from his son, Alexandre Dumas, fils (son) who was also a writer--was a prolific writer, who often wrote serially, for publication in the newspaper. Its amazing to me that he could write this way, without an opportunity to re-visit earlier plot points, or edit at all, after it made its way out into the world.

I've read The Three Musketeers, but there are 3 sequels to that book alone, including The Man in the Iron Mask. I'm going to have to read that at some point. I just read that another novel was discovered in 2005, called The Knight of Sainte-Hermine; the English title is The Last Cavalier.

Near the end of the story, Monte Cristo says that he, like Satan, once thought himself equal to God, in that he could assume God's responsibilities to punish the wicked on earth. A presumption he eventually regrets, but I don't think he felt bad that he passed out the ass-kicking, I think it was the presumption that bothered him. That and a twinge of guilt for the innocents that got in the way.

As I said in an earlier post, this is, by far, the best story about revenge there is. Monte Cristo is high with it, along with the other substances his place in society made available to him, as my 9th grade teacher alluded to. Monte Cristo is cold, aloof and exacting in his revenge. But we see the tender, sorry side of him as well. Dumas walks that line very carefully with his character so we don't just dismiss him as a psychopath. When Monte Cristo grits his teeth and says to himself, they're going to pay for what they did to me and my family, we grit right along with him.

And its Monte Cristo's money that allows him to do what he does. He has so much, his fortune is almost a secondary character in the story; it plays a supporting roll, whose support never wavers for a moment.

I don't think I'm out of line when I say that I think Monte Cristo may be the best Dumas wrote, and I think Dumas may even agree with me. He named his home, outside of Paris, the château de Monte-Cristo, which has been restored and is now open to the public. clicky-click on the link. the place looks amazing Lastly, I think its worth pointing out that Dumas was not given a burial fitting of his talent, probably because of the color of his skin. In 2002, French President, Jacques Chirac, directed his body be moved from the cemetery at Villers-Cotterets to the Pantheon of Paris.

* You too, Auguste Maquet, who apparently helped plot and ghost write much of what Dumas produced.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

le comte de monte cristo i

The cover of my pilfered copy
O, sweet, sweet vengeance.

But that will have to wait for now... I'm not quite at the half way point of The Count of Monte Cristo, one of my all-time favorite books. This must be the third, or perhaps the fourth time I've read it, but its been over 10 years since the last time, so while I remember the story, the details are what really make this story a pleasure to read.

Alexandre Dumas wrote and published The Count of Monte Cristo as a newspaper serial, beginning in 1844, the year he published the Three Musketeers. One can imagine folks eagerly awaiting the next installment, taking turns reading them privately, or perhaps aloud to one another, as other forms of entertainment for work-a-day families and the wealthy alike, were limited. The long form novel, rich in detail, action, and intrigue is just the kind of thing that kept Dumas's readers enraptured during the long months it would take to receive and read the entire story.

My first experience with The Count of Monte Cristo was as a class assignment in the 9th grade. Mr. A___ assigned the book, and we all got a copy of the paperback. In order to introduce us to it, he described the book as full of sex, drugs and violence. Cheers erupted from the classroom. Nice work Mr. A.

I, however, did not read the book. I wasn't a reader. But occasionally, Mr. A would read from the book aloud during class. Looking back, I think he understood that this was very likely how many people enjoyed it originally, and it also helped us to bang out a chapter or so without actually having to read. The other thing it did, as least for me, was interest me in the story. Something that I have done with my own children. Again nice work Mr. A. What did me in, was the final exam on the story. It was either essay questions, or multiple choice, which I failed miserably. Not having read the book, I was not in a position to know the answers, but I found myself wanting to. This is the second time this happened to me; the first being the previous year, when my 8th grade English class read The Hobbit. So I did what worked for me so well the previous year, I failed to return the book at the end of the year, and read it over the summer. Those two stolen books made me a reader. I'm not sorry, its the best money my school department ever spent.

A closer look at the image of the cover of my 1978-9 copy indicates that the book I originally read, and then probably read again a few years later, was abridged. That's not the case with the tome I'm pounding through now.

Back to le Comte, who has just recently returned to Paris...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

woman in cabin 10

The Woman in Cabin 10 was an exciting read. I picked it up at the hospital gift shop when a visit lasted longer than I thought it would, and I finished the book I brought. Ruth Ware is an English author with just a few titles to her name, but it looks like she has a future here.

Laura Blacklock has hit the jackpot: her boss is on maternity leave, and she gets a gig for her travel magazine's spot on the maiden voyage of a super-luxury, small, and exclusive yacht. 10 cabins only, small crew, fancy food and drinks, chefs, suites with private balconies... you get the picture.

The rich bigwig who owns the thing has invited a combination of high end travel media types--which is why Laura's magazine has a spot--and a small collection of potential investors, to come along on the maiden voyage into the north sea, with a hope of seeing the Aurora Borealis. 

But Laura comes to the trip with a little extra baggage, her apartment was recently broken into while she was home, and she has an anxiety problem. Which she sometimes treats with an extra drinky-drink. So after diner and a few drinks, she is startled awake in the middle of the night by a scream, and a heavy splash from the balcony next door.

But there is no one staying in cabin 10.

So mystery.

WiFi and telephone is out (maiden voyage, issues not worked out) so we've got an isolated group of suspects, and not everyone is convinced that anything has even happened.

Flavors of "Gaslight," Murder on the Orient Express, and And Then There Were None abound in this high tension mystery. Everyone seems like a suspect and Laura's anxiety amps up the tension throughout. Nicely done Ruth Ware.

Friday, September 29, 2017


My oldest read this book ten years or so ago, while in middle school. It was apparently a favorite then, so it was time for a re-read. I got the chance afterward, along with a glowing recommendation. How could I say no?

East is a YA novel based on a Norse myth, which may grow out of, or be related to, the story of Eros and Psyche, and/or the Beauty and the Beast fable. In this case, our heroine, Rose, is taken by a talking polar bear, and adventures and misadventures, quickly ensue.

This book was a page turner, and although its beefy, the text is large, and the chapters are small. All the hallmarks of what YA readers want. The story moved forward quickly, and the author’s technique of telling the tale in the voices of many of the characters, kept the story lively and interesting. Knowing that you’re working with a tale that is already well known, probably removes some of the worry about where to go next, but this does not seem like a simple re-telling to me. Pattou even throws in a Viking-like character named Thor to hearken back to the story’s roots.

Edith Pattou does a good job. This was fun.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

atrix wolfe

The Book of Atrix Wolfe is a fantasy novel by Patricia McKillip, whom I don’t think I’ve read before. All in all, this book has an interesting story, and the way the fable is written—slipping in and out of what I assume is Faerie—is pretty well done, once I got the hang of how it was being described. Prior to that point, it just seemed to get dreamy and surreal. In some cases, it was because someone was, in fact, dreaming, and in other cases it really was Faerie. But how to tell the difference? Or, is there a difference? Perhaps not. Sometimes its just oak leaves blowing in the wind.

Atrix Wolfe is a mage, who takes on the shape of a white wolf sometimes, to make his way about, or to hunt, or to just hang with the wolves. Wolfe can also take the form of just about anything, from water to oak leaves, and tends to in a pinch, but is probably most comfortable as the white wolf. Maybe even more comfortable than in his human form. He’s also the most powerful mage anyone in this small kingdom seems to know, or has even heard of. 

He also has a bit of a temper, and maybe a lack of patience. Not a great combo for a dude who can do just about anything from capturing the moon, to rustling some oak leaves.

Talis is the king’s younger brother, born on the night his mother and father were killed in a terrible battle. His older brother has assumed up his father’s crown, and did his best to raise Talis as the second in line for the throne. As part of the young prince’s education, the king has sent his younger brother to a mountaintop retreat to learn magic from the mages. All except Atrix Wolfe, who has not been seen or heard of since the terrible battle that killed the former king and queen, and left the current king and prince as orphans. While away, Talis learns only basic magical skills, such as lifting a small object, of making the leaves of an oak twirl in the wind.

On his last day of mage sleep-away camp, Talis does two things: climbs nearly to the top of the mountain where the mage’s retreat is, crawling through snowy crags, and drifts of oak leaves, eventually catching a glimpse of a wolf; and then whilst playing hide and seek, discovers an untitled book of simple spells, which he asks the headmaster if he can borrow.

Then destiny happens. 

And more oak leaves

I have few minor points about this book, but they’re not really worth mentioning. oak leaves If you’re a fan of faerie stories, you’ll probably enjoy this one. This probably falls into the YA category, if it matters, even if its touted as adult fantasy fiction.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


I recently read Terry Pratchett's The World of Poo, which included a short segment about a wyvern, including an illustration. no, that's not it I've run into wyverns in my reading in the past, but it got me thinking: Wyverns are similar to dragons, but we don't see them often. They don't seem to be as well known a beast as a dragon. Until more recent times, wyverns were nearly interchangeable with their dragon cousins, in British heraldry, for example, but seem to have fallen out of favor. Perhaps as literacy has taken over for iconography, and heraldic symbolism has become less important, folks simply forgot about wyverns. But we haven't forgotten dragons. What is it about dragons that captures our imagination, more than wyverns?
Wyverns appear, to this observer, to be a much more likely anatomical form that their four-legged dragon counterparts. Wyverns have two legs and two wings, like a bird. Seems odd right? Dragons--western dragons anyway--have four legs, and two wings. Which seems to make more sense. 
A wyvern is built like this bird: two legs, and two wings
But when you compare these beasts to others in the animal world, its actually the dragon that's odd. Most animals have four limbs. A wyvern has four limbs too, but a dragon has six limbs: four legs and two wings. What else has that? Nothing, that's what. 

A dragon is built like nothing else: four legs, and two wings
Is there really nothing else built like a dragon? An insect perhaps? They have six legs, right? But flying insects have six legs and two or four wings, for total of eight or ten limbs!* And antennae, and exoskeletons, so... probably not a good archetype. 
Know what else does have four limbs plus two wings? Flying horses, griffins... and angels. Maybe it's because this anatomical form is so alien to us, is why we've chosen it for our most popular mythical creatures. 

And maybe that why most of us don't know what a wyvern is. Maybe it's oddness just isn't odd enough for us.

We need crazy, just as much as crazy needs us. Wyverns just aren't as crazy as they need to be.

* like octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

norse mythology

Neil Gaiman seems to have a wide and varied output of stuff, not least of which is books. I probably know him best as the author of Coraline, though I've never read it, nor have I seen the movie. Parenthetically, he's had other stories made into movies as well. This effort, however, is more traditional, and its not the first time Gaiman has taken on the retelling of myths. One gets the feeling that they are an important part of his research and inspiration for his original works.

Norse Mythology went to number one on best seller lists in a number of English speaking countries as soon as it came out, in February. I missed that, but then I'm not really following new books all that closely in general. The newer stuff I read is normally on display at my library, or at one of the many libraries I visit. I found this copy in the Quick Picks section at my library. I can see why this book would have been so popular when it came out, Gaiman is a well known writer, and the timing is right. The Lord of the Rings movies are reasonably recent, as are the Thor movies, and Game of Thrones seems to have taken over a large segment of the world's population.

For me, I'm interested in the mythology itself, and there isn't much of it left. Unlike the Greek and Roman myths, much of the Norse mythology was oral in tradition, and if Snorri Sturluson didn't hear it, and write it down, then there weren't a lot of other opportunities for its preservation. I was a little disappointed that there weren't more stories that I hadn't already heard in this book, although, the tales included were beautifully written, albeit in a clipped, hard language, reminiscent of Vikings, perhaps.

What has always fascinated me about the old myths is how human the gods were, and in this book, the Norse gods are even more so than even the Greeks and Romans. They're fallible, drunken, stupid, boorish, proud, even susceptible to aging, physical harm, and death. Even though I knew many (but not all) of these stories, it was great fun to read them, and follow the story arc through time. That alone was worth the price of admission.

Read this book.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

loving a woman

This small paperback book of poetry was given to me by my wife more than 20 years ago. She marked the poems she wanted me to read in particular with small bookmarks, which are still in my copy. This time around, I read through the whole collection. Its only 75 pages or so. It didn't take long. Many of Robert Bly's poems are short; just a stanza or two.

I'm not sure I'm smart enough to know what two worlds Bly speaks of when he talks about Loving a Woman in Two Worlds, but if I had to guess, I'd say they are the modern world, and the natural world, and as you can imagine, sometimes the two overlap. Often, Bly speaks of love, and sex, and caring through the anthropomorphism of animals and natural objects. And the subject matter seems to often stray to himself and his wife, with whom it appears, he has had a long, but sometimes rocky relationship, which seems always to return to love.

Bly's poems are sparse, subtle, evocative, and tinged with rawness of feeling, and underlain with animal lust in all its natural glory. Bly lays it all out there in his poems, and their honesty is compelling. The language is both simple, and complex: the vocabulary is very accessible--Bly isn't digging through the thesaurus for just the right word--but the meanings, how the words are used, seems to slip and shift as I read.

It was a lot of fun to come back to this one, and relive the feelings I had when I first read these poems, as I also looked at them, and my relationship with my wife, with the perspective of the intervening years.

Read this book.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

black widow

My wife bought the two most recent Danial Silva books, in his Gabriel Allon series; Black Widow is the first of them, number 16 in the series, which I've just finished. I'll probably read some other things before I get to number 17. This one was a little preachy for me. Silva, its seems to me, is using his position as a popular writer to warn the world about the impending doom that international terrorism can bring, and to critique the western response to the threat, as short sighted, politically, or even personally motivated, and very likely to make things worse.

That is not opinion that I disagree with, exactly, its just that I'm not sure what the solution is. Terrorists that have no fear of death used to be viewed as rare, and born of mental illness. The terrorists the world is currently dealing with are not mentally ill, they are as sane as we are, and appear to be fighting for what they believe in, much as we do. I'm not apologizing, or even sympathizing, what I am saying is that thinking of terrorists as crazed thugs, moves us further away from understanding. And maybe, therefore, away from potential solutions.

Black Widow appears to be Silva's idea about how to combat the threat. Infiltrate. And destroy from within. In fact, that may actually be going on, how would we know. For all of our useless 24 hour coverage, we only hear the same things repeated over an over, slightly repackaged, in order to fill the time between the commercials. Real things happen all around us, and we have no idea. Silva, and many others, believe that the group trying to take over Syria, were given the opportunity to do so by the American led invasion. The war created the vacuum of power that allowed this group, and groups like them to grow.

That may be true, but it also may be unknowable. Silva seems to have taken it personally that his voice, and voices like him, haven't been heeded. And his anger, or at least his disgust, seems to be bleeding through into his writing. I wouldn't say that Gabriel Allon takes a backseat to the author's punditry, but Silva does seem to be less invisible in this episode than I have noticed in the past.

Not as procedural as some of the other novels, which I have enjoyed, but for diehard fans, this episode is another solid chapter in the overall story arc.