If you think I'm a Grinch for giving this book three stars, then you'll be furious when I tell you that I really wanted to just give it two, but somewhere in my three-sizes-too-small heart, I felt compelled to recognize some of the creativity in this and so I've conceded a star.

Inkheart opens on Meggie, a twelve year old girl raised by her father (whose name is Mortimer and rather than call him Dad, she calls him Mo) in a house where books cover every inch of available space. Mo repairs books for a living and when he's not repairing them, he's reading them. Meggie has also inherited the reading gene, and even sleeps with a book under her pillow, so it can whisper a story into her ear. And while we're told by Meggie everything that would suggest this is a cozy home and loving (albeit small) family where they keep no secrets from each other, we're immediately thrust into events that put all of this on its ear.

Meggie sees a man looking up at the house in the middle of the night and while her father mocks her for imagining things, when he sees for himself, he recognizes him and lets the man in. His name is Dustfinger and he calls Meggie's father "Silvertongue." What results is Mo futilely spending a lot of time trying to hide things from Meggie. He even tries to ditch Dustfinger and take Meggie to her great-aunt Elinor's home, but he's forced to bring him along. (The book obsession runs in the blood on both sides of the family, evidently, because Elinor's home is more like a library, with incredibly valuable books under lock and key.) But of course, the truth eventually comes out to reveal that Meggie's father has kept much bigger secrets from her than she ever thought possible.

Mortimer is called "Silvertongue" by Dustfinger because he has a wondrous and terrible gift: when Mortimer reads aloud from books, things happen. More specifically, items from the story he is reading are conjured out of thin air and characters are literally brought to life -- but the price for such transport seems to be that items from this world would disappear into the story. Nine years ago, while he was reading a book called Inkheart to Meggie's mother, Mortimer accidentally brought three men from the book to life... Dustfinger and two villains named Capricorn and Basta. And if this wasn't terrible enough, Meggie's mother was taken in to the book. Despite many attempts, Mo could never read Teresa out of the book and so he was left alone with their baby daughter.

For the past nine years, Dustfinger survived in the world by performing tricks like a gypsy... eating fire and juggling at carnivals, but he still remains homesick for the world in the book, even though he can never bear to read the book's ending to discover his fate. Capricorn, meanwhile, built up an army of henchmen in this world and desperately wants to capture Mortimer and use his skills for his own purposes. Sure, Capricorn found some other guy who could read things out of books, but they never quite turned out well, and so he wants Silvertongue to read out an evil that would make Capricorn all-powerful. In addition, Capricorn has been collecting copies of Inkheart, so Mo might have the only copy that is not already in Capricorn's possession. Without Inkheart to read from, Mo has no hope of ever rescuing Teresa from the book. And so now, Dustfinger has apparently arrived to warn Mortimer that Capricorn knows his latest hiding spot... but no one realizes (the all too obvious fact) that Dustfinger has betrayed them... in many ways.

For the rest of the book, Mo, Meggie, Elinor and Dustfinger are captured, escape, and are captured again by Capricorn and his henchmen, with Basta at the forefront. A host of villainous characters are at his disposal and our good guys are desperate to discover a way to thwart Capricorn while still keeping a copy of Inkheart safe. Over the course of the story, we pick up a few other characters, including a boy conjured from A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, a mute woman brought out of Inkheart who looks suspiciously familiar, and the author of Inkheart himself who feels responsible for the men he created out of ink and paper.

On the positive side, I'm generally approving of any book that promotes literature in such a way. There's something about being a child who loves books reading a book about people who love books... it makes you sense the true value and magic of the written word. And the idea of someone who can read things out of books is good enough... but the fact that there is a price to be paid for it is even better. And hey, I have to give points to any book that quotes The Princess Bride.

But as far as my grievances go, there's a big problem that I have with the adult characters in general. Rather than have scenes demonstrate things about these characters and their attributes, we're TOLD everything about them. We certainly understand that Meggie is utterly devoted to Mo, but I didn't actually feel as though Mo was really all that overly fond of his daughter. He must be, sure -- he knew his responsibility and took care of her, but we didn't get many scenes yielding evidence of tender father-daughter affection. The bad guys talk about how he's so besotted with his daughter so she's great bait for drawing him to Capricorn, and we're told (mostly by Meggie) how close they are, but the scenes in the book were mostly scenes where Mo is supposedly doing something out of character... using a stern voice or keeping secrets. His face was also supposed to be an open book, but unless it was just that confusion for all of this muddled him so much, I didn't see him as a very well-defined character with very obvious emotions. We're also told that the bag guys are evil but they didn't seem so bad to me. It's a case of their bark being worse than their bite. Was this because we were trying to spare kids from having nightmares? It's not like the whole book wasn't spent with characters running in fear. Or perhaps we were relying on the reader to be so appalled by the burning of a library... but that's not the same kind of evil as was attributed to Capricorn and Basta. Elinor's character has a different problem... she started out as a character who was much more abrasive in the beginning and ended up as someone we were supposed to love, but the switch didn't make much sense to me. Meggie is fairly strong as a twelve year old bookworm, so I don't find much fault with her character (aside from her name, which I want to be Maggie every time I write it out). As for Dustfinger... well, I think he got off lightly once you realize the extent of his betrayal. Hardly excusable, even if he's homesick and sad. I'm not quite sure why we still view him as a "good guy" in the end.

I was fidgety and somewhat annoyed through most of this book, and I read it over the course of two days (a) because even if it's thick, it's a kid's book and the type is large and (b) because I didn't want to spend more time on it. Things seemed only somewhat dark (and while you knew things would end well, the feeling of things was rather bleak in terms of landscape and lack of character banter) and I didn't get enough of a fall from grace feeling to believe the world was ever better than the one that included Capricorn. A reunion scene at the end of the book seemed to be a bit lacking, though everything ended with a tidy bow. Sure, it's a children's book, but I was under the impression that the writing was really trying to explain to kids that the world is dangerous beyond super-villains, and then everything seems a-okay? Hm. I have mixed feelings about cutting this book some slack given its intended audience, but I also feel like there's clearly talent in these pages, and so the issues I have seem the result of some sloppy ideas. We could have spent more time on character development and less time running through hills only to be captured again. Alas. I doubt I'll be reading the sequels to this one any time soon, but knowing me and my obsession with finishing things completely, I might end up doing so in the future. But in paperback -- at least I've learned my lesson there.


The History of Love

Oh my.

The History of Love
is breathtakingly beautiful.

Simple phrases would break my heart with their loveliness and the images that were evokes produced such sighs as I closed my eyes to savor them. Nicole Krauss (who's married to Jonathan Safran Foer) lives in my neighborhood and I'm pretty sure I've seen her around, but I kind of hope I don't run into her again, as I'd be compelled to babble something about her exquisite prose.

Told from a variety of perspectives, The History of Love follows two particular people whose lives are deeply connected to a book with the same name. Leopold Gursky is the man who wrote that book for the girl he loves, naming every woman in the book after her. After surviving Nazi-occupied Poland, he moves to New York and is now an old man, reduced to deliberately causing scenes in public places (spilling things in Starbucks, haggling for change, etc.) so he will be noticed, desperate measures born out of his crippling fear that he will die alone and undiscovered in his apartment. Alma Singer is a fourteen year old girl in present day Brooklyn, whose name came from that book and whose mother is now translating it. Her father died a few years ago and her mother is still cocooned in her grief, whereas her younger brother, Bird, is convinced that he is a lamed vovnik and quite possibly the Messiah.

Rich with the complications of life and the things that can be lost (and rediscovered) with time, Krauss expertly weaves in and out of these stories while still making sure that we are never lost.
I was given this book as a gift for Christmas (2006?) but I never picked it up... now, this could be because the ingenious friend who gave it to me inserted it in a cleverly crafted "book purse"... aka a hardcover book with handles that had a space just large enough for this paperback carved into its pages. But when I remembered its existence inside, I read this in the space of two days. I don't know if I simply needed a lovely book and so that's why my reaction is so intense, but I clearly adored it. I devoured it, trying to slow down to savor everything, but alas. It's the first book in a long time that made me reach for a pen to underline phrases and mark passages for later reference. All I can say is that if you're a friend of mine who usually gets a birthday or Christmas present and you haven't read this... well... there will be no surprise in what you'll be getting this year.


A Fatal Waltz

A Fatal Waltz would be the third in the "Lady Emily Ashton" series that Tasha Alexander writes. I read the first book because there was something on the cover about "if Jane Austen wrote mysteries" and my mom bought it for me as a joke. I read the second because a friend's father somehow wound up on the cover recommending it (not exactly his type of literature...). I read the third because, having just finished a dreadful book, I needed something that I knew would be fun. And that's exactly what it was, provided that you don't want you fun to come at the cost of thought or energy.

Lady Ashton has succumbed to the suit of Colin Hargreaves (the best friend of her first husband, whose murder formed the focus of the first novel) and the pair are engaged, but somehow, they can't quite manage to make the wedding happen. First, Colin is called away for business (he's a spy dontcha know!) and then the most powerful man in England swears that he'll do all in his power to put an end to it, as he despises Lady Ashton. Well, when he winds up murdered, you'd think that might at least pave the way for the wedding (and provide the basic plot of the novel as Lady Ashton seeks to exonerate her friend's husband, who winds up as the prime suspect), but then the Queen decides that as a favor to Lady Ashton's mother, she will lend the location and her presence... next summer.

I put the basic plot of the novel in parentheses there because I'm not fooling myself... I know why I'm reading these. I like the romance of it all, and the mystery comes second. And it's hard not to put the romance first in this one, because it's not just their cute banter as to when they can get married ("I'm free this afternoon."), but we see a bit of Colin's past as a former flame turns up. She may be married and she may be Austrian, but that only makes her more of a threat to poor Emily, who's worried that she might not measure up to such a glamorous creature... particularly when the woman tells Emily outright that when Colin proposed to *her*, she turned him down because she selflessly didn't want him to become sloppy in his work and risk his life. Despite the melodrama, I was pleased that Colin was given this past love who clearly meant something to him and he doesn't try to deny it. After all, the first novel had the intriguing premise of a young woman who didn't particularly know her husband well, but when he dies, in her search for answers, she finds that she was dearly loved... and she can't help but fall in love with him as well. It was poignant and here, we see Colin allowed to have something, too. I'm not sure I appreciated it when it was blatantly pointed out the phrase being something like "we're both people who've lived" or somesuch, but it leveled the playing field. And lest ye think that the drama ended there, oh no... we've got a case of hopeless love, multiple cases of familial revenge, and a baby on the way whose father might be execute. And the whole murder case thing. We also get to run around Vienna for a while, which is nice if you've been to Vienna so you have visuals for the copious amounts of historical touchstones and location references. Just like tourists now, they couldn't get out of Wien without sampling sachertorte.

I only wish that these books didn't bother to make an appearance in hardcover, as the third novel just made its debut in paperback and the fourth is out, but I simply can't justify the purchase. So if historical romance mystery floats your boat and you enjoyed the first two, then certainly try the third. You won't be surprised by anything that happens, but you'll certainly feel satisfied.


The Dark Volume

In finishing this book, Dorothy Parker came to mind... "This is not a novel to be tossed lightly aside. It should be thrown with great force."

The greatest joy that I experienced with this book came when I was finally finished and could set it aside. I disliked The Dark Volume so intensely that my opinion of the first book (in what is now clearly intended to be a series), The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, was actually tainted by association.

Gordon Dahlquist, what happened? Oh wait, I know. The large amounts of studied creativity, character development and lavish scenery gave way to the deep need to keep things going in a serial format, and thus yielded a book where very little was described in valuable detail and a great deal happened, but almost none of it was of any consequence. I may have only spent nine days reading this (or rather, trying to read this, as I couldn't ever say that I got into it enough to the point where I experienced any pains in setting it down, even in the middle of a sentence), but it felt like the longest nine days that I've experienced in a great while. As a result, not only was I frustrated, but anyone who happened to be around me while I read this was incensed against the book, too. My significant other implored me to stop reading it, as he could hardly take my growls of annoyance and exasperated exclamations of, "Just die already!" (which were directed at multiple characters throughout the course of the novel).

And as far as trajectory, well, we seem to have ended up in the exact same damn place, only everyone is much dirtier. (Though admittedly, that clearly is the goal of the author, to expose the darker, corrosive side of what might seem an alluring power. Still, I was overjoyed when a character stopped to take a bath during this volume.) Confrontation between a large number of characters where the alliances are tenuous at best before everything shatters... I mean honestly, if it was going to lead to such a similar conclusion, what was even gained by the events of this book? At least the last time we saw this tableau, it was aboard a dirigible! (There may be a dirigible on the cover of this book, but there is not one in the book... unless you count references to the sunken one from the first book.) The Dark Volume failed to have anywhere near the same amount of creativity as its predecessor (not to mention that at least The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters took place in interesting locations, whereas we spend the whole of The Dark Volume in destroyed and crumbling buildings, inhaling smoke from explosions, and crawling through the woods while everyone bleeds and vomits). While I'm not necessarily an advocate for Dahlquist spending even more time describing things, perhaps the most crucial oversight was that he failed to explain exactly why we should even care about the events taking place! He relied entirely on our attachment to the characters on the basis of the first novel and made little attempt to endear any of them to us (except, perhaps, for Doctor Svenson who was tormented by his feelings for Mrs. Dujong, but it was hard to feel sympathy when I wanted to stab her repeatedly for being stupid and useless).

And by the end? We still suspect that the majority of the baddies are dead (though again, the only person we know who is still fully functional and at large is the Contessa), and the only difference is that we are led to believe that the majority of the goodies are dead, too... (or course, as with the last book, only a fool really believes it).

I won't bother to explain the plot, I will only suggest that if you have read and enjoyed The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, you should do yourself a favor and not bother to pick up its sequel. I rarely abandon a series, but I doubt that I could survive another installment of this... and besides, I made the arrangement with myself that all I needed to set these books aside with a clear conscience was for a kiss to take place between two particular characters. Having received that small satisfaction, I say farewell to Dahlquist and I curse the urge that drove me to purchase this terrible thing in hardcover.


The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

My review for The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist spans both Volume One and Volume Two, because really, I figure if you're committing yourself to the first, you should probably accept the second... after all, the book was originally printed as one large hardcover, and it only split into two volumes in paperback.

That said, my big issue was this. Generally, I think one can assume that the period of time in which it takes the events of a book to unfold will be greater than the time it takes one to read it. That might be *barely* true here... but only if one factors in the extra day that passes in the first five pages where Miss Temple absorbs the news that Roger Bascombe has ended their engagement. *Including that*, everything takes place in three days. Three days! That's a lot of pages to chart the course of three days. And sure, we're moving quickly, but I actually found this to be a book rich in detail, perfectly willing to linger over descriptions of people and locations... and the action scenes certainly took double the time to read than they would to actually occur (and oftentimes, you have certain scenes repeated at least twice, as we bounce between the perspectives of three main characters).

All that aside, I did enjoy these books and since I read them in the space of five days, I can reasonably say that they do captivate one's attention. Of course, they do this by such a ridiculous amount of suspense that I didn't feel as though I was eagerly devouring the book so much as I was being forcibly pushed through everything, with the knowledge that if I stopped, I would surely find something amiss and so I had no choice but to power through. There was never a moment of pause as we barreled headlong into an incredibly complicated plot with a long list of characters.

The simple description is ridiculously broad. Three unlikely compatriots find themselves banding together against a sinister group of persons who have a plot to take over the world by mind-manipulation. But that only scratches the surface.

The book opens upon Miss Temple reading a note from her fiancee, informing her in a rather terse note that he is terminating their engagement. She resolves to discover exactly why he has ended things (not out of deep love to get him back, but more with a need for closure), and of course, the most logical way to do that is not to ask him, but to follow him. This propels her (and the reader) into a world that is more and more complicated by the minute, with a "Cabal" of personalities bound tightly together by a fracturing partnership. But she isn't alone -- Celeste Temple forms a strange alliance with two other men as they seek to thwart the evil-doings of the Cabal. Cardinal Chang is a deadly assassin so named for his trademark red jacket and scarring on his eyes that gives him the appearance of being Oriental. Originally hired to kill a man (who turns out to be deeply involved in the Cabal's goings-on), Chang is unable to follow-through on that assignment when he finds the man has been killed for him, but his involvement hardly ends there. Doctor Svenson is a chain-smoking diplomat/doctor who is essentially baby-sitting a prince of Macklenburg (a German duchy) that has become engaged to a wealthy Lord's daughter, and then discovers that the Lord, the daughter, and his own prince all have their roles in this sinister plot. And lest you think this is some simple "take over the world" plot by hypnotising people, the means for mind-manipulation rest in the mysterious properties of "indigo clay" and the amazing glass that can be formed by it as a repository for memories. Such fantastic ideas have a darker side, too -- and the adherents to this "Process" might very well be selling their souls (or at least their free will) over to the leaders of the Cabal.

The fantasy elements are certainly interesting... I was introduced to the phrase "steampunk" by way of this book, and if you know that at all, it certainly applies. It's chocked full of dirigibles and trains, as well as masquerade balls and erotic undertones (without venturing into anything really romantic). It's certainly a wild ride, but I must admit that with the two volumes and all, I was a little peeved to note that there's a sequel that was just published. You'd think that it would at least have the courtesy to conclude its business within those two volumes, but ah well. I'll certainly go on to the sequel, but I predict that it might be trying my patience to do so. But if "steampunk" seems up your alley, then by all means, seek out The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters because it certainly is a creative epic, the likes of which you rarely stumble across on the pure fiction shelves (rather than that of fantasy or sci-fi).