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Review ~ The Silver Linings Playbook

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

Cover via Goodreads

An enchanting first novel about love, madness, and Kenny G.

During the years he spends in a neural health facility, Pat Peoples formulates a theory about silver linings: he believes his life is a movie produced by God, his mission is to become physically fit and emotionally supportive, and his happy ending will be the return of his estranged wife, Nikki. When Pat goes to live with his parents, everything seems changed: no one will talk to him about Nikki; his old friends are saddled with families; the Philadelphia Eagles keep losing, making his father moody; and his new therapist seems to be recommending adultery as a form of therapy.

When Pat meets the tragically widowed and clinically depressed Tiffany, she offers to act as a liaison between him and his wife, if only he will give up watching football, agree to perform in this year’s Dance Away Depression competition, and promise not to tell anyone about their “contract.” All the while, Pat keeps searching for his silver lining. In this brilliantly written debut novel, Matthew Quick takes us inside Pat’s mind, deftly showing us the world from his distorted yet endearing perspective. The result is a touching and funny story that helps us look at both depression and love in a wonderfully refreshing way. (via Goodreads)

I watched the movie based on this book back around when the movie was nominated for several Oscars. The movie is pretty quirky and I wondered what the book was like, especially since the movie culminates with a dance routine. I’m always interested in how action scenes of every kind are written.

This book is equally as quirky, though the story is a little different. It’s, well, less cinematic. The conflicts that make for a good movie aren’t as necessary in a novel, especially when the novel is a first person narrative about a man coming to terms with his past, both his actions and the actions of others. There is also perhaps more leeway in written fiction for coincidences, especially with the main character is as befuddled by them as the audience might be. I didn’t realize this was Matthew Quick’s debut. In The Silver Linings Playbook, he manages to write about some weighty subjects with a very light hand. (David O. Russell did a really good job with the screenplay as well. He was beat out for the adapted screenplay Oscar by Chris Terrio’s Argo. I have to believe that Russell was a close second.)

So, how does one write a dance scene? In the book, the dance is not as much of a climactic moment, so there is a certain vagueness to the actions. Funnily enough, the opposite is true of the dance training. Since the character of Pat has decided his life is a movie, he gives us a “montage” of his training, instead of the more separate scenes that exist in the movie. The differences between the book and movie are pretty interesting.

Publisher: First published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 2008
Genre: Literary
Why did I choose to read this book? Curiosity

Deal Me In, Week 16 ~ “Crossing into the Empire”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Crossing into the Empire” by Robert Silverberg

Card picked: Jack of Hearts (I feel like I’ve read a lot of hearts, but it’s really clubs that I’ve read the most of.)

From: Beyond Imagination, ed. by David Copperfield and Janet Berliner

Review: “Crossing into the Empire” is a time-travel story of sorts, and I have a complicated relationship with time-travel stories.

The premise: About twice a year, the Byzantine Empire shows up in Chicago. The details are a little vague. When a slice/cube of the Empire/Constantinople appears, I’m not sure whether that portion of Chicago is likewise displaced or sort of “overwritten.” I assume, since it doesn’t seem to be an issue, that when the Empire leaves, Chicago is fine. What time period of the Empire is also a bit random.  Anywhere from the 4th century to the 1400s, but this story takes place in the mid- to late 1100s, during the reign of a semi-fictional Basil III. Since the comings and goings of the Empire is somewhat predictable and has become somewhat commonplace, antique dealers such as Mulreany cross over to do a little trade. Binoculars, compasses, and Coca-Cola are exchanged for gold and gem laden trinkets. Of course, the people of the Empire, though greedily willing to make a buck, are also weary of the “sorcery” that has been plaguing their city. And then, of course, there are the crossers that never come back, presumably stranded when the Empire leaves before they can return to Chicago. But maybe, another fate awaits them.

Story-wise, this is 95% set up and 5% twist ending. Which is…okay. It read easily enough, but every time Silverberg emphasized how routine crossings had become, how experienced Mulreany is, I absolutely knew that something bad was going to happen. And then there is the time-travel aspect. The world in 1150 was a very different place. It’s doubtful that even the most well-versed historian/anthropologist would be able to blend in. The germs are different, not having been subjected to the last 850 years of mutation. Let’s not even get into how giving ancient peoples technology could really hork up the future/present. And wouldn’t the influx of Byzantine artifacts crash the present day antiques market? Time-travel sets my system-loving teeth on edge. On the other hand, the concept of time-travel is so dang fun. Doctor Who is one of my favorite shows and time-travel tropes don’t bother me nearly as much when treated is such a whacky way.

About the Author: Prolific and lauded, Robert Silverberg has been writing in the SF genre since the mid-1950s. What I didn’t know is that Silverberg has also written dozens of non-fiction titles on numerous subjects under numerous pen names.

Review ~ The Thief of Always (and the thief of my weekend)

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The Thief of Always by Clive Barker

Cover via Goodreads

Master storyteller and bestselling novelist Clive Barker creates an enchanting tale for both children and adults to cherish and retell. The Thief of Always tells the haunting story of Harvey, a bright 10-year-old who is suffering from the winter doldrums, and of a creature who takes him to a place where every day is filled with fun, and Christmas comes every night. (via Goodreads)

A week ago last Sunday, I received a key to participate the EverQuest Landmark closed beta. I’ve been a casual player of EverQuest and EverQuest 2 for years, but was only mildly interested in playing Landmark, the crafting sandbox precursor to EverQuest Next. Did I want to play something that’s still a little buggy and not fully functional? The key gave me a week to play around and, on Friday when the free week was nearly over, I plunked down $20 to continue harvesting and building. Next thing I knew, thieves of time that are computer MMOs had done a number on me. It was Sunday and I hadn’t read a word in 48 hours. Queue the audio books. I hunted up some audio books specific to the Once Upon a Time challenge. I figured, I’m playing in a fantasy world (roughly), why not listen to some fantasy fiction?

My first selection is a tad on the horror side, but still solidly in the land of fables. We begin in February, a gray beast of a month, with Harvey, a good kid who is terminally bored. He is the perfect target to be tempted by Mr. Hood and the Holiday House. Of course, there’s a catch and Harvey realizes that being a good, bored kid isn’t the worst thing. Despite the potential Bradbury feel of a 10-year-old learning to value time and mortality, this *is* a Clive Barker story. There’s some blood and gore. There are dead cats. There are scary, uncomfortable moments. Story-wise, the final confrontation between Harvey and Hood goes on maybe a little too long. The stakes alone are enough to make the battle important, not it’s number of rounds.

This is a “reread” for me and I own the hardback. The main disadvantage to listening to it is not having Barker’s lovely, creepy illustrations.

Media preview

After a week, this is what I had built in Landmark. It needs more flowers.

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Deal Me In, Week 15 ~ “Disillusion”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Disillusion” by Edward Bryant

Card picked: Four of Hearts

From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination

Review: Jack, an investigative reporter, and Ingrid, a fellow journalist and Jack’s lover, are assigned an exposé: the death of magic. Jack throws himself into his work, secretly filming the Great Mandragore’s act and carefully figuring out how each trick is done. Unfortunately, Ingrid is not cut out for this sort of story. Knowing the secrets behind the tricks sends her into a depression and ruins her relationship with Jack. Of course, the assignment isn’t what is seems and Jack’s boss at Real World magazine has ulterior motives.

After about three pages of this story, I had reservations. Characters weren’t acting in ways that people act. I feared this was a flaw in the writing, but in fact, it was a feature. Bryant has a very good reason for Jack and Ingrid being the way they are which isn’t evident until the last act of the story. I do wish there had been a little more background. After Eric Lustbader last week, who gives almost too much story, this tale seemed rushed.

This story deals with an issue I’ve come up against time and time again when reading about magic. Reveals and exposés, do they “kill” magic? For many people, knowing the secret behind a magic trick ruins the illusion for them. This is most of the reason why the “magicians never tell their secrets” rule exists.* This story was written in 1995-ish, before Fox’s Breaking the Magician’s Code series and the ease of rewatching clips of tricks on YouTube, and posited that revealing a magician’s secrets would pretty much ruin him and many people’s sense of wonder. Personally, I’m never disappointed to know the trick of the trick. To some extent, I appreciate magic more after knowing how much work and ingenuity goes into it. And despite reading yet another post on the decline of magic earlier this week, I don’t think audiences are so jaded that they aren’t at least sometimes still amazed.

* Regarding professional secrets, there is an interesting layered aspect to intellectual property rights within the magic community. At the bottom are tricks anyone can buy at a party store; at the top are things like Mr. Copperfield disappearing national monuments.

About the Author: Though fairly prolific, I haven’t read too much of Edward Bryant’s works. I’m mainly familiar with him in relation to Harlan Ellison, with whom Bryant has collaborated.

Is This Your Card?
After finally getting a more magic-driven story and one heavy on a magic “issue,” I’m sad that I don’t have a card trick for the Four of Hearts! Instead, I’m going to leave you with perhaps my favorite trick ever. This is Teller’s take on the classic Miser’s Dream.  I suppose it should be titled The Miser’s Dream of Gold(fish).

Review ~ Houdini: The Handcuff King

Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes (Writer), Nick Bertozzi (Illustrator)

Cover via Goodreads

Harry Houdini mesmerized a generation of Americans when he was alive, and continues to do so 80 years after his death. This is a “snapshot” of Houdini’s life, centering on one of his most famous jumps. As Houdini prepares for a death-defying leap into the icy Charles River in Boston, biographer Jason Lutes and artist Nick Bertozzi reveal Houdini’s life and influence: from the anti-Semitism Houdini fought all his life, to the adulation of the American public; from his hounding by the press, to his loving relationship with his wife Bess; from his egoism to his insecurity; from his public persona — to the secret behind his most amazing trick! And it’s all in graphic form, so it’s fresh, original, and unlike anything previously published about this most fascinating of American showmen. (via Goodreads)

Quick read last week; quick review this week. I can’t do a better job summarizing than the above. The storytelling is good and I appreciated the attempt at making Houdini flawed. Like Nikola Tesla, the world wants to make Harry Houdini an uber-hero. This is never the case with anyone, no matter how famous and lauded. Lutes also did a good job showing the some of the behind-the-scenes people involved in the act and the Houdini publicity machine. (Working entirely on one’s own is another aspect of hero-ization.)  The art was good, especially illustrating the underwater parts of the stunt. An enjoyable read.

Publisher: Hyperion
Publication date: April 1st 2007
Genre: Graphic novel, biography
Why did I choose to read this book? Interest in magic and therefore Houdini

Deal Me In, Week 14 ~ “16 Mins.”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“16 Mins.” by Eric Lustbader

Card picked: Two of Hearts

From: David Copperfield’s Beyond Imagination

Review: Finally, a story with a magician! My hope with these Copperfield-edited anthologies was that there’d be stories with magician characters. This is the 9th from the anthologies that I’ve read, the second penned by Eric Lustbader, and, finally, a magician!

The 16 Mins of the title is a reference to Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame quote. The narrator (do I ever learn her name? *skims story* I don’t think I do) is a young woman with a very special talent. She can make things disappear, briefly, and reappear somewhere else. She takes a no-name magician under her wing and recreates him as Randy Gold, the world’s greatest escape artist since Houdini. Unfortunately, Lustbader gives meaning to “fame monster.”

The narrative is laid out pretty simply. I liked that Lustbader held back the exact method of Randy’s signature escape until the end of the story; it gave it a “how *are* they doing it” aspect. The narrator compares herself with Henry Higgins (or rather Rex Harrison) in My Fair Lady, but really she’s the one with the really sucky, abusive past. Randy, formerly Ralph, was just a mediocre magician that was resign to that life.

Is This Your Card?

I’m on a roll picking stories with associated card tricks!

Review ~ Dolores Claiborne

Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King

Cover via Goodreads

For thirty years, folks on Little Tall Island have been waiting to find out just what happened on the eerie dark day Dolores Claiborne’s husband died — the day of the total eclipse. Now, the police want to know what happened yesterday when her rich, bedridden employer died suddenly in her care. With no choice but to talk, Dolores gives her compelling confession…of the strange and terrible links forged by hidden intimacies…of the fierceness of a mother’s love and its dreadful consequences…of the silent rage that can turn a woman’s heart to hate. When Dolores Claiborne is accused of murder, it’s only the beginning of the bad news. For what comes after that is something only Stephen King could imagine…as he rips open the darkest secrets and the most damning sins of men and women in an ingrown Maine town and takes you on a trip below its straitlaced surface. (via Goodreads)

I’m not a huge Stephen King fan, but there are things that I think he does very well. I like his shorter works, and I think his stories are better with a small-ish cast of characters. And, maybe surprisingly, I think his less supernatural stories are better. The dark side of human nature provides ripe enough meat for King, really.

I had seen the movie years previous to picking up Dolores Claiborne in a pretty crappy paperback copy from the library’s sale corner. I was interested in seeing how King laid out this story. I had no idea that the book was a continuous first person narrative by Dolores herself. No chapter breaks! It’s a mild literary stunt, but King pulls it off. The dialect didn’t bug me either.

The plot, while low on supernatural elements, is dark and a bit unnerving. It’s a solid book and I liked it more than I thought I would. Gerald’s Game is a semi-related and I’ll probably check it out soon.

Publisher: Signet
Publication date: December 1993
Genre: Horror
Why did I choose to read this book? Just in the mood for some Stephen King.

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