Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Having read Gaiman’s graphic novel, Coraline, I was eager to dig into his adult fantasy, Neverwhere, but as I moved through this book, I kept experiencing déjà vu. I began rooting through my old paperbacks and found that I had read Neverwhere when it was first published in 1996. I felt good knowing this wasn’t a flashback like having a purple pony dance on your pillow. Not that I would know anything about that. It did happen to a friend of mine, though.

ANYWAY . . .

This is the story of Richard Mayhew, a young businessman in London, who has a good job, a grand heart, and a fiancé who rules him with an iron fist. It is also the story of London Above, London Below, and a girl named Door. (Dragon note: one day I’d like to know about Mr. Gaiman’s fixation with doors . . .)

On his way to dinner with his fiancé, Richard comes across an injured girl lying in the street, and though his fiancé demands that they leave the girl alone, Richard helps her by taking her to his apartment. When she awakens, she tells Richard that her name is Door and that he must find the marquis de Carabas, who owes her a favor and will take care of her. What she doesn’t tell Richard is that her family has been murdered, and that two of the most entertaining villains that I’ve had the good fortune to read are hot on her trail – Mister Croup and Mister Vandemar, who live by the motto: “Things to do. People to damage.”

Unfortunately, after his contact with the marquis and Door, Richard suddenly ceases to exist in London Above. Richard embarks on a trip to London Below where he hopes to find the secret that will allow him to return to his normal life in London Above, but London Below is a place fraught with magic and intrigue. Joining the marquis and Door in their hunt for the killers of Door’s family and pursued by the vicious Croup and Vandemar, Richard struggles to understand himself and the strange new world he inhabits.

Gaiman gives us a wonderful romp with delightful characters. At times laugh out loud funny, poignant, and just plain fun, Neverwhere takes the reader on a wild ride through London Below where nothing is sacred, neither angels nor death.

My Rating:    


College Girl by Patricia Weitz

Shy and awkward Natalie Bloom arrives at UConn, her dream school, as a junior after attending community college for two years.  The youngest of seven children, Natalie is the first in her family to seek a higher education.  Majoring in Russian history, Natalie spends literally all of her time in class or in the library studying, and just as studiously avoiding social contact with her fellow students.

One day she meets tall, handsome Patrick in the library (where else??) and soon she’s on her way to her first romance.  If you can call it that.  Patrick is interested in Natalie at first, but soon it becomes obvious that he is using her for sex and is really quite contemptuous of her modest circumstances and her blue collar upbringing.  Natalie remains awkward and uncertain, and it’s literally uncomfortable watching her spiral downward as she gets wrapped up in Patrick and loses her focus on school.

If you’ve ever been the one at school that hangs around on the periphery and never quite feels like you fit in, then you may well relate to Natalie.  I think her character was believeable to anyone who has been to college and struggled to find their way.  The other characters in the book were fairly one-dimensional and interchangeable and I never really understood why Natalie’s family, especially her six older brothers, treated her so badly.  A subplot focusing on the suicide of one of Natalie’s brothers when she was a child and how it affected her later wasn’t really fleshed out as well as it might have been either.

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Coraline by Neil Gaiman

“Coraline discovered the door a little after they moved into the house.”  Thus begins the creepy adventures of a little girl who discovers an alternate world in her own house.  The world beyond the door is similar to her own world.  There is even an identical set of parents…but wait!  Are those big black buttons in place of eyes?  Soon Coraline realizes that her “other mother” wants to keep her permanently in her world.  She even has a lovely set of black buttons for Coraline. 

This is the graphical adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s hugely popular children’s book, Coraline.  Not having read the original book, I can’t really compare them, but it seems the ideal story to receive the graphical treatment.  The illustrations by P. Craig Russell are detailed and realistic, evoking the kindness of Coraline’s real mother and the evilness of her sinister “other mother” equally well. 

This book will be released as a major motion picture in stereoscopic 3D in February of 2009.  See the trailer here

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The Killing Room by Peter May

During a major groundbreaking for the New York-Shanghai Bank in Shanghai, the struts on a projecting platform give way to plunge an American CEO into a pit full of corpses. This is a great opening not only because it is a well written, tense beginning, but also because it gives the reader the same warm visceral feeling that we got when the dinosaur ate the lawyer in Jurassic Park. For China, however, it’s a PR nightmare, and for Deputy Section Chief Li Yan, it’s the proverbial redball that he catches in Beijing. Sent to work with his Shanghai counter-part, Deputy Section Chief Nien Mei-Ling, Li is instructed to establish whether the Shanghai killings were in relation to similar murder in Beijing. With the bodies in such a state of decomposition, Li wants the American pathologist, Margaret Campbell, to work with the Chinese pathologists in determining the time and cause of death.  Based on the pathology reports, it appears that the corpses were subjected to live autopsies.  It would be easy enough to leave the dead women anonymous and have his detectives stalk the killer, but May does a beautiful job of humanizing the victims through Li and Mei-Ling’s investigation.

I can’t tell more without giving away a rather intriguing ending, but I will say that as a thriller, this book works beautifully; the pacing is good and the story moves along at an interesting clip. I loved the modern depictions of China; May’s writing style brings the cities of Shanghai and Beijing to life with all their beauty and grit. Li and Mei-Ling are believable characters, and the sexual tension between these two vibrates all the way through the novel, but I wasn’t as enamored with love triangle sub-plot between Li, Mei-Ling, and Margaret. Margaret comes across as a petty, childish, alcoholic, who disdains everything Chinese (except Li, of course). Where Li and Mei-Ling are multidimensional characters, Margaret is the quintessential arrogant American, and I never quite felt the same tension or even affection between Li and Margaret that I felt between Li and Mei-Ling. May ties everything together neatly in the end, and while I can’t call it the most captivating thriller I’ve ever read, The Killing Room was still a good read.

The Woman’s Field Guide to Exceptional Living by Corrie Woods

So you have the blahs, your life is moving nowhere, or worse still you’re in a holding pattern where your daily routines are so meticulously planned there is no room for spontaneity or change. Well, North Carolina author Corrie Woods has produced a refreshing little tome for women that extols them to move beyond ordinary living into extraordinary living, simply by changing ingrained habits and repetitive thinking patterns. Her guidelines for becoming a BOLD (Brilliant, Outrageous, Luminary Diva) woman are simple yet provide a subtle wake up call for women who are either disillusioned or simply bored with their lives.

Generally, I eschew self-help books because I feel like my life is just fine, thank you very much; however, I enjoyed the section on how to step out of the familiar and into new territories. This book is written for any woman, whether you have a PhD or a GED, you will get something out of The Woman’s Field Guide that will give you a little ah-ha moment (as I like to call them). Divided into three sections with succinct chapters, Ms. Woods presents a straightforward outline for living that can be revisited time and again.

My Rating:  

Consecrated Phrases: A Latin Theological Dictionary [2nd ed.] by James T. Bretzke

The Reverend James T. Bretzke is the Professor and Chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Francisco, and he has presented a very concise and informative volume of Latin phrases utilized in Church liturgy and practice. This slim volume covers many phrases familiar to Roman Catholics and Protestants in addition to some classical Latin aphorisms.

Each entry gives a literal translation of a Latin phrase followed by a very brief explanation of the phrase and its usage within the context of Church theology or canon law. The text is designed to be a quick reference for theological students rather than an exhaustive explanation of Church terminology; however, even a lay person can enjoy reading Bretzke’s brief entries. Whether you are looking for a quick Latin reference or are just curious about the history or meaning of Latin phrases that have surfaced in our religious culture, Consecrated Phrases is a welcome addition to any library.

My Rating: 

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani

On a dark night in long-ago 17th century Persia, a comet streaks across the sky.  This event foretells bad luck for a young girl in a small village.  When her father passes away unexpectedly, she and her mother must move to the city of Isfahan and throw themselves on the mercy of their father’s half-brother Gostaham, a carpet maker to the Shah, and his greedy wife Gordiyeh.  Treated as servants in her Uncle’s house, the unnamed girl soon gains her Uncle’s respect when she demonstrates her skill at carpet making.    Women were not allowed in the rug making workshops, so the girl works on her own with guidance from her Uncle who grows to love her, seeing himself in her, but realizing the limits her gender places upon her carpet making career.

One day an offer of marriage arrives, but since the girl (who remains nameless throughout the novel) has no dowry the offer is for a “sigheh” or temporary marriage to a rich man.  Gordiyeh pressures her to accept the offer, reminding her of the expense she and her mother have caused Gostaham and herself.  The girl accepts, thus losing the only thing of value she owns — her virginity.

Throughout the novel, the girl’s mother weaves fables and tales like Sheherazade, providing stories within stories.

This beautifully written first novel captures the sights and sounds of medieval Iran, bringing to life the city of Isfahan with it’s bridges, mosques and colorful bazaars, while providing insight into a society with little regard for women beyond their abilities to look beautiful and bear children.  Recommended.


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