October 29, 2003
Swagbelly: A Novel for Today's Gentleman by David Levin

Swagbelly: A Novel for Today’s Gentleman by David Levin: a tale of a pornographer and the events and memories that make up his life.

Elliot Grubman is an extremely wealthy publisher of Swagbelly - a pornographic magazine who’s quality is below Playboy but above the crude, typical magazine that dominate the industry. Newly divorced, Elliot’s life is slowly falling apart despite the fact that he is worth over $100 million. He tries to put his life back together by dating models from his magazine, learning polo, and other measures, but what really is it that he needs and wants?

I find it hard to really describe this book. I guess it’s a “Day in the Life” kind of novel, even if that life does involve lots of money and models. It would be hard for most to like a man who uses women, intimidates people, and deals in the sex industry, but Elliot is a surprisingly rich character who I really liked. I wanted things to go well for him.

While the tale of an extremely rich pornographer may sound like an off-putting idea for a novel, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would like to see more of Levin’s work.

October 27, 2003
Cannibals of the fine Light by Simon Brown

Cannibals of the fine Light by Simon Brown: a short story collection from an Australian author that never quite lived up to its potential.

These stories, set in a not-to-distant future, almost all revolved around biochips planted in people’s brains and their relationships with other humans, machines and animals.

For the most part, I didn’t really enjoy too many of the stories. I wanted to know more about the time and place that they happened in. Kind of like with William Gibson’s Neuromancer, I felt that I was missing key elements as to why people did the things that they did. I just never really felt myself drawn into the story.

Saying that, however, I did enjoy a few of them. They were “The Mind’s Eye,” “The Final Machine,” “Brother Stripes,” “Rain From the New God,” and “The Truth in Advertising,” a clever little co-written piece that made reading the book worth it. Not really recommended, but fans of anthologies may find enough gems in here to make mining the book worth it.

October 25, 2003
A Cup of Light by Nicole Mones

A Cup of Light by Nicole Mones: a surprisingly good novel that deals with Chinese history, art fraud, and romance with a deft hand.

Lia Frank, a deaf porcelain art export, has been called to China to check the authenticity of twenty expensive, rare pots. When she arrives there, she finds out that it’s not twenty pots she’s checking, but rather 800. At this point, the mystery of where the pots came from begins since a collection of this magnitude is a rarity and valued at almost $200 million.

Lia is almost a mnemonist and is able to recall every pot that she’s ever looked and every catalog or book that she’s read dealing with porcelain. This allows her to relive Chinese history in trying to track the pots and I found these interludes some of the most interesting in the whole book.

While in China Lia also meets an American staying in the same place and they immediately click. Since she’s only in China for a short while, it leads to questions about whether she should get involved with him or not.

On a side note, while I know you should never judge a book by its cover, the cover on this novel is absolutely stunning. The colors are beyond lovely and it actually seems to glow. The subtle Chinese characters repeated throughout the background and the beautiful picture of a cup is so perfect - very hoi moon.

I enjoyed reading this book immensely. It seemed almost like poetry as opposed to prose. The flashbacks to ancient China were amazing and the rich details of the porcelian pieces made me want to immediately visit a museum to see the type of perfection that she was describing. Mones is an extremely talented writer and I look forward to reading her first novel, Lost in Translation, and any others that she writes.

October 20, 2003
The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham: this is science fiction at its best, relevant and enjoyable still even though it was published almost fifty years ago.

David Strorm lives in a community where genetic mutations are an every day part of life. Whenever these mutations occur (ranging from small differences like an extra toe or finger to the extreme like a two-headed calf), they are rooted out. In the case of livestock and crops they are destroyed and for those humans unlucky enough to deviate from the Divine Image of God, they are cast out of the community and sent to live in The Fringes.

David has the ability to communicate via telepathy, something he’s been able to hide for most of his life. However, as he gets older and the risks are more serious, it becomes inevitable that his secret will be found out.

I completely devoured this book, enjoying every minute of it. Despite that it was written almost fifty years ago, the language and people of the book were as fresh as if their stories had just been conceived.

I wish that Wyndham would have written a sequel to this book so that I could see how everyone’s lives played out and if information about The Tribulation was ever discovered (my money’s on nuclear war).

Great book and at just 200 pages, a perfect, quick read. Recommended for all, especially sci-fi fans.

October 18, 2003
Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland

Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland: an incredibly powerful and hypnotic novel that pulled me in immediately.

In the beginning of the novel, Richard and Karen have sex for the first time on top of a snowy mountain. A few hours later, after giving Richard a note that she warns him not to read since she wants it back unopened, Karen inexplicably lapses into a coma. Her coma changes everything in the life of her friends and family and sets into motion unexpected outcomes. I won’t mention anything more (and I suggest not reading the reviews on Amazon since they contain a fair amount of spoilers. Best to just read this one and let you take you where it goes).

From the start, I could not put this book down. I found Coupland’s voice to be so engaging and his characters so real. I could not wait to see what was going to happen next.

Almost the entire novel was a surprise - I could not predict what was going to happen next and where it would end up. Saying that, however, I felt that the ending was weak. The book seemed to just kind of end. The last thirty pages or so were very disappointing in light of how much I enjoyed the book, but I would still highly recommend this one to others.

October 16, 2003
Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding

Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding: a very enjoyable book from the offer of Bridget Jones’s Diary despite the fact that it takes place in famine-stricken Africa.

Rosie Richardson works in publishing and is quite shocked to find herself girlfriend to one of television’s stars. However, the relationship is terribly flawed and emotionally abusive, helping lead to her decision to move to Nambula, Africa to help run a refugee camp. Four years later, a famine of epic proportions is threatening to destroy all that she has helped build, so she returns to London to enlist the help of the celebrities she used to know in raising funds and food for the camp.

The first part of the book is done in flashbacks of Rosie’s life before Africa while continuing to tell what is currently happening with her. I enjoyed both timelines and was almost disappointed when the book caught up with “real time” and became linear.

I found Rosie to be a wonderful character - strong without realizing it and willing to help others despite the risk to herself. While I suppose you could predict where the entire book was going, I nevertheless liked it quite a lot. Fans of Fielding and other chick lit authors should be quite pleased with this one.

October 14, 2003
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: while I have always heard about this book, I had never actually read it. So, when a bookring was started for it at BookCrossing, I jumped at the chance to read this classic children’s novel that chronicles the adventures of Rat, Mole, Frog, and Badger as they live their lives by the river near Wild Wood.

At the start of the book, Mr. Mole is doing a bit of spring cleaning when he suddenly decides that he must be out in the lovely day. He begins to wander when he finds himself near the river. Never having seen such a thing as a river, he becomes immediately entranced and soon makes a friend of Mr. Rat, a water rat living right on the bank. Mr. Mole is soon introduced to Mr. Toad and, eventually, to Mr. Badger, the other key characters in this delightful book.

I very much enjoyed reading The Wind in the Willows and only wish I would have come upon it when I was younger. For some reason, the concept of the animals having things like motor-cars bugged me since I could not see how a toad could fit behind the wheel of a car to drive. I could readily ignore that, however, since the book itself was so charming. I particularly loved the relationships between all of the friends and how much they cared for one another.

Recommended for children of all ages, especially the younger ones who would probably most enjoy the concept of a toad driving a car.

October 12, 2003
The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel

The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel: an absolute delight for several of the senses - seeing and hearing.

This novel starts out in Mexico as the conquistadors are obliterating the Aztecs. After a brief interlude with a conquistador and an Aztec princess, we are in Mexico City still, but far in the future. We immediately meet Azucena, an astroanalyst, who with the help of a gaurdian angel help people put the karma of their past lives into balance. She is going to meet her twin soul and true love, Rodrigo. Soon after meeting him, however, she loses him and begins a journey through many lifetimes to help all the people of the world learn the Law of Love.

At first, going from ancient Mexico to futuristic Mexico threw me off. I also felt a bit lost since the book starts talking about Azucena being an astroanalyst, but I wasn’t sure what that was. I quickly picked up on everything and enjoyed the story quite a bit. The occasional chapters from both a gaurdian angel and a demon always interrupted me from the story - they would always jolt me to reality.

There were several interesting concepts in this book that I found both entertaining and enjoyable. Whenever Azucena wanted to regress to a past life, she would listen to her CD player. A CD with the same tracks that she listened to was included so that the reader could hear what she was hearing. The past lives were also done in wonderful color illustrations by Spanish artist Miguelano Prado showing exactly what she was experiencing.

While the New Age talk may throw some people off, I found the book very entertaining and enjoyable. I would recommend this to anyone looking for something a little bit different to read.

October 08, 2003
The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen

The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen: better than average “serial killer stalks victim” novel that I enjoyed quite a bit.

A series of serial killings in Boston have the police baffled. Women are bound with duct tape, have their stomaches cut open and their uterus removed, and then killed by having their throats slit.

The police are at a standstill until it’s discovered that similiar killings happened in Savannah, though he was shot and killed by his last victim, Dr. Catherine Cordell. Questioning Cordell it begins to become obvious that the murders have something to do with her, but why and what?

I enjoyed this book for several reasons - the biggest being the story itself and the characters. I truly liked Cordell, Moore, and Rizzoli and wanted to see what was going to happen to each of them. I also enjoyed the plot and figuring out who the killer was and how he was choosing his victims.

Highly recommended for fans of the thriller/mystery genres and for anyone else that wants to get their blood pumping. Can’t wait to read the rest of Gerritsen’s work.

October 06, 2003
The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert

The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert: a science fiction novel by one of the best in the field that seemed to hold more promise than was ever delivered.

In Santaroga, a valley town in California, everything appears to be normal - until you look closely, that is. No one ever moves away for long, there’s no business in the town that aren’t local, and outsiders aren’t welcome.

Gilbert Dasein is hired by a group of corporate marketers to visit Santaroga and discover its secrets. Since Gil once dated and is still in love with a local girl named Jenny, it’s hoped that he’ll have more luck than the previous researchers, all of whom died in a series of accidents.

This book had a very strong Twilight Zone feel to it, but I ultimately felt that it never really delivered on its promise of being a scary, intriguing sci-fi novel. It’s not that it was bad, but it just wasn’t as good as I had hoped. I felt that it lacked a strong resolution of what the mysterious Jaspers was and how it came to be in the town.

Also, the book was first written in 1968 and I felt that it seemed a little dated to me. Nothing huge, but some of the issues of race and the like didn’t quite feel right. If you’re a sci-fi fan, this one may still be up your alley, but I don’t strongly recommended.

October 01, 2003
Wake Up by Tim Pears

Wake Up by Tim Pears: surreal novel that never could hold my interest as much as I would have hoped it would.

The novel starts out with John, co-owner of a very successful potato company in England, driving out to see his brother (and business partner) to tell him about two fatalities that occured in an experiment to give people vaccines administered by genetically altered potatoes. John is frightened to what these deaths are going to mean to his company and he can’t quite get himself to take the exit he’s supposed to. Almost all of this short novel takes place on that Monday in John’s car as he thinks to himself about his life and what is going to happen now.

John’s thoughts wander all over the place and he frequently changes them ("Did I say (I met my wife this way, etc.) earlier? Oh no, that’s not what happened at all; it was like this..."), which kept annoying me.

Listening to John prattle on about his life never quite could get me as interested in him as I wanted to be, so the book’s events never really mattered much to me. I will admit, however, that I wasn’t expecting the surprise revealed at the end of the book.

Would I recommend this book to others? Probably not. I didn’t really like it and ultimately, that’s what I read for - enjoyment. No enjoyment out of the book means it wasn’t worth my time. Good thing it was short.