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Discussion: What Are You Reading? (August Edition)

“Books are for people who wish they were somewhere else.”

Mark Twain, like Stephen King, is not wrong. Some people might read books to learn things; the rest of us read books to forget what we know about the world around us. That’s what I’ve done recently with two books about that imaginary, fantastical land known as (whisper it…) nineteenth-century Britain.

The Essex Serpent

Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent has all the charm of a Wilkie Collins novel with just enough sass and sex to appeal to the modern spinster. When Cora Seaborne’s sadistic husband dies, the amateur naturalist takes her son and her female companion to the Essex countryside in search of fossils and the titular ichthyosaur of local legend. What she finds—including a dashing vicar, a wealthy patron, and more—results in a series of subtle character studies and a fascinating glimpse into the vibrant world of post-Darwin rural England.

It is the sort of book that, at first, you don’t want to put down. Then, when you realize you are near the end, you put it down frequently to avoid having to leave the world Perry created.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

After the death of her mother, Dr. Jekyll’s daughter Mary tries to uncover the truth about her father’s odd last days and death many years before. Her investigation leads to more surprises than you might think, including half-sister Diana Hyde, a pieced-together woman named Justine, and a delightful Catherine Moreau who all but meows. Aided by—and sometimes, aiding—Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, Mary and her band of “monsters” fight crime, swap clothes, and try to solve the mysteries of how, and why, they came to be.

Unlike the serpentine prose of Perry’s novel, the language of Theodora Goss’s The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter is informal and fast-paced. There are shoot-outs and fires, circuses and evil nuns. But its most memorable aspect is likely also its most controversial: the novel is narrated by a distant third-person narrator, but annotated by Mary, Diana, and their growing group of female friends. The result is not postmodern but conversational; reading the books is like getting to sit with the interesting kids at lunch after a semester of eavesdropping.

And now over to you, dear readers: What are you reading? Is it better than reality?

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. I just finished Louise Penny's "A Great Reckoning". Penny is a Canadian author who writes a series of mysteries featuring Armand Gamache, formerly of the Québec Sûrteté. But to call her books mysteries is far too superficial (and this coming from someone who loves mysteries). Her stories are very character and place driven. They follow different threads... make you laugh... salivate (at her descriptions of food)... dream (at her descriptions of Three Pines, the imaginary town in the Eastern Townships of Québec, about an hour or so south of Montréal (my home town)... and they also make you feel in a way that is intense, exquisite and often heart breaking. Her characters become people you know and that you worry about. And "A Great Reckoning" -- her latest -- was an absolute tour de force. Even if you are not a Québecer, to follow Armand Gamache and the people in his entourage, is a feast.

  2. As I mentioned in our last discussion thread, I'm going through the novels of Douglas E. Richards, and just finished one called Quantum Lens. This is a science fiction novel about human beings having superpowers because they found a way to connect to the zero point field. In Quantum Lens, the characters talk about a book called The God Theory by Bernard Haisch, and I was so intrigued that now I'm reading it. The God Theory is just that -- a theory about the nature of God, written by an astrophysicist. I'm connecting to it big time and might write something on my personal blog (billiedoux.com) about it.

  3. I'm re-rereading Millenium so I can add my comments to Billie's review. I read it once to refresh the plot in my mind, and I'm reading it again to clarify the time travel aspects of the novel (which get rather complicated).

    I'm also in the middle of The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke, which is a collection of his short stories. I'm usually not a short story person, but I'm enjoying this collection so far...

  4. "To Have and Have Not", Hemingway.

    Yeah, I'm totally boring. I just somehow missed to read it even once in my life.

  5. I finished reading a book called A Resistência (The Resistance) a couple of weeks ago. It's a very well written character study. The narrator focus the story on his foster brother, who has drifted away from him and from their parents. At times I wasn't sure if the brother had committed suicide or not. It took me forever to finish it because the story is extremely slow, there is only a sense of progression towards the end.

    Now I'm reading Preacher, the comics. A couple of years ago I wanted to start reading graphic novels and asked for suggestions at a Facebook group from college. Preacher was one of the suggested titles, but it was hard to find the first trade paperback, Gone to Texas. Just this week I was at the bookstore and, voila, there it was! I wasn't even looking for it anymore.

    Gone to Texas consists of the first seven issues and I didn't like it initially. I thought the writer tried too hard to be edgy and dark. Look, violence, look, adult language. There is also too much going on on the first four issues. But I thought the mythology was good from the get go, the concept of someone physically searching for God was cool and well done. And, once the first four issues had laid the groundwork, the story took off on issues 5 to 7, which featured a neat little arc. I liked it enough that today I went out and bought the second TPB, Until the End of the World.

  6. I read Jurassic Park and The Lost World by Michael Crichton in the last two weeks. I think Jurassic Par is a better book than the The Lost World, mas The Lost World is still good - especially because of Sarah Harding.

    Now I'm interested in reading Millennium. I like this thread, even though it keeps adding books to my TBR list.


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