Review ~ 84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Cover via Goodreads

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene’s sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.(via Goodreads)

I reread 84, Charing Cross Road at the end of 2015 because I wanted a book that I knew that I would enjoy…and because I wanted a quick read in an attempt to hit my reading goal. But, truly, this is one of my favorite books.

Funny thing, TJ at My Book Strings just included 84, Charing Cross Road in her Book to Movie feature. I came to this book in the opposite direction. I’ve been a Anthony Hopkins fan for ages and watched the movie for his performance. It’s a lovely, charming movie and I started to keep my eyes open for the book due to Helene Hanff’s wry voice. The movie does a great job adapting a book that is correspondence between (basically) two people.

And, since it’s Valentine’s Day week, I’ll point out that this is one of my favorite non-romantic romances. While there’s definite affection between Hanff and Frank Doel, it’s also a romance between Hanff and literature. I grew up in a household full of books with a mother that loved stories too, but it was something else to encounter someone that was in love with books. This was way before the book blogging community. ;)

I’m planning to reread all of Helene Hanff this year.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Moyer Bell Limited, 1991
Acquired: Gosh, I don’t remember. Probably the eclectic little bookstore in Rockbrook, probably in 1991. Definitely before 1993, because it was one of the books I took to college with me.
Genre: memoir

Deal Me In, Week 5 ~ “The Talking Stone”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Talking Stone” by Isaac Asimov

Card picked: Two of Clubs
From: Asimov’s Mysteries

Thoughts:

Larry Vernadsky is the lone current inhabitant of Station 5, a way-point between the asteroid belt and Earth. He’s a jack-of-all-trades engineer with “an isolation-sharpened bump of curiosity.” He is overly excited when the mining ship Robert Q docks needing a diagnostic and a few repairs. After a wrong turn on his way to the engine room, Vernadsky discovers that the three-man crew have a “pet” silicony—an intelligent, talking, mind-reading silicon-based life form that is often found on asteroids.* Except that this silicony is about ten times bigger than any previously known specimen. The crew of the Robert Q are tight-lipped about its providence and nonplussed by its uniqueness. Which gets Vernadsky with his bump of curiosity suspicious. In his spare time, he’s read the works of famous extraterrologist Wendell Urth on the subject of siliconies.

If siliconies need gamma radiation to live and grow, then this one must be from an asteroid with a lot of radioactive materials… And if the crew of the Robert Q is so secretive and a little hostile about their pet, then they might be…uranium smugglers! If Vernadsky can prove it and locate the asteroid, an Earth-side promotion could be his reward.

He proceeds to sabotage the smuggler’s ship and contact the authorities. Of course, an accident keeps it all from going smoothly. In the end, it’s the job of H. Seton Davenport to locate the asteroid, with Dr. Wendell Urth “helping” by pretty much continuously telling Davenport that he’s a dim-wit. This is the second story with these two characters, but in story chronology and in my reading chronology.

At several points in this story (and I fear this may occur more in Asimov’s mysteries), a character figures out something by following some thought process and then slyly alludes to it. But the reader has no idea what he’s** alluding to, at least not immediately. I see no good reason for this. Asimov could have shared the entire thought process and it wouldn’t have taken away from the plot of the story.

Better use of a silicon-based alien in a murder mystery? Gene L. Coon’s Star Trek episode “The Devil in the Dark,” written a decade later.

* This is actually a slang term for the creature. Asimov does provide a more scientific name for the species.

** Since I’ve recently had long conversations with Eric about he/she/they, I will point out that “he” is completely accurate. Asimov isn’t big on female characters.

Review ~ You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Cover via Goodreads

The Internet isn’t all cat videos. There’s also Felicia Day—violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world… or at least semi-influential in the world of Internet Geeks and Goodreads book clubs.

After growing up in the south where she was “home-schooled for hippie reasons”, Felicia moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But Felicia’s misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her own production company, and become an Internet star.

Felicia’s short-ish life and her rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influential creators in new media. Now, Felicia’s strange world is filled with thoughts on creativity, video games, and a dash of mild feminist activism—just like her memoir. (via Goodreads)

I.

I’ve generally enjoyed Felicia Day’s work. I think I first saw her on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Redheads always take notice of other redheads and having two on Buffy was pretty extraordinary! I’m also a fan of indie projects. I love seeing good stuff made and distributed without huge budgets. So, I’ve generally dug what Felicia Day is doing on the internet.

II.

It’s interesting what a memoirist chooses to write about. In this case, Felicia Day focuses on two main things: her weirdness and her presence on the internet. There’s very little in this book about her TV acting career (which includes Eureka and Supernatural as well as Buffy) or Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (which I was actually hoping to hear more about).

There is a lot about her upbringing, which she credits lovingly for her weirdness. Make no mistake, weirdness isn’t a bad thing in this memoir. Day isn’t shy about her likes and firmly seems to believe that no one should be. The internet has played a big part in bringing her into contact with other like-minded people and providing a means to do the thing she truly had a passion for: acting…as something other than the mousy cat-lady secretary. You’re Never Weird provides a pretty in-depth history of The Guild and its evolution into Geek and Sundry.

III.

This memoir isn’t all sunshine and virtual roses, which was surprising to me. Day is also a workaholic perfectionist. In the midst of burgeoning success, she suffered a breakdown. If embracing your inner geek is one message of this book, self-care and seeking help is another. Day also touches briefly on her experiences of harassment before and during Gamergate. The internet can bring people together, but it can also bring people together to form mobs. I have to give Felicia Day credit for sticking with and still loving the internet, even though it can be ugly.

Publishing info, my copy: Simon & Schuster Audio, Aug 11, 2015
Acquired: Tempe Overdrive Digital Collection
Genre: nonfiction, memoir

Deal Me In, Week 4 ~ “The Slype House”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Slype House” by A. C. Benson

From: Jay’s Top Ten Favorite Ghost Stories, found online at Project Gutenberg.
Card picked: King of Spades (which coincidentally happens to be the same card Jay assigned it.)

Thoughts:

Anthony Purvis is the son of a unloving father. His mother died when he was young. His mentor was an Italian necromancer and his “friends” in adulthood are a surgeon and a priest. Anthony lives in Slype House, formerly a monk’s college that overlooks a church, with two servants and everything he needs, including a small dark room which no one but himself enters. Nearing the end of his life, Anthony begins to wonder:

Was he so certain, he began to think, after all, that death was the end? Were there not, perhaps, in the vast house of God, rooms and chambers beyond that in which he was set for awhile to pace to and fro?

Calling on the teachings of his old mentor, Anthony endeavors on a rheumy October night to find answers using the black arts.

A. C. Benson maybe isn’t as skilled or crafty an author as M. R. James or Ambrose Bierce, but “The Slype House” still packs a creepy punch. The straight-forwardness of his writing, especially when describing Slype House, reminds me of Hammer Horror movies: clear and in color.  And just when you think Benson has left us with a good Anglican tale of grace, well, it’s not *that* simple.

About the Author:

Arthur Christopher Benson was the son of Edward White Benson, the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was, according to Wikipedia,

a distinguished academic…educated at Temple Grove School, Eton, and King’s College, Cambridge. From 1885 to 1903 he taught at Eton, returning to Cambridge to lecture in English literature for Magdalene College. From 1915 to 1925, he was Master of Magdalene. From 1906, he was a governor of Gresham’s School.

And a noted author of ghost stories.

Review ~ White Plume Mountain

White Plume Mountain by Paul Kidd

This is my own damn book!

A remorseless ranger.

A sentient hell hound pelt with a penchant for pyromania.

An irksome pixie who sells intrigue and information.

Three companions who find themselves trapped in a city filled with warring priestly factions, devious machinations, and an angry fiend. To save the city, they must find three weapons of power, which lie in the most trap-laden, monster-infested place this side of Acererak’s tomb: White Plume Mountain. (via Goodreads)

I decided to start the year with a guaranteed-to-make-me-laugh reread.

Paul Kidd wrote three novels (and a short story) set in the Greyhawk fantasy world. All three feature the same cast of eccentric characters, snappy dialogue, and well-written action scenes. I’ll probably read the other two at some point during the year.

This is probably the third time I’ve read this book. It’s the second copy I’ve owned, after I loaned out my original. Now, this isn’t great literature. If you need a moral, well, it *is* all about working together; each member of this adventuring party bringing their unique talents to bear. But really, for me, this is just good entertainment. Not every reading experience should be a complete happy-fun-time, but sometimes, it’s really nice if it is.

Favorite quote:

She had a particular smell reminiscent of marked cards and forest flowers.

Publishing info, my copy: mass market paperback, TSR Inc., October 1999
Acquired: Originally Borders. This second copy from Book Mooch.
Genre: fantasy
Previously: This is a reread!

Deal Me In, Week 3 ~ “Witch War”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Witch War” by Richard Matheson

Card picked: Seven of Diamonds
From: I Am Legend and Other Stories by Richard Matheson

Thoughts:

My second Matheson story in as many weeks. This one was…not as good. It was more of a vignette than a story, weighing in at seven trade paperback pages.

The set-up? Seven pretty young girls (witches, though they are never called such) decimate an attacking infantry from the comfort of their common room by using mental powers. Men are spontaneously combusted, smashed with falling boulders, drowned by sudden waves, and attacked by various animals. It is especially pointed out that the girls seem “innocent” and there’s a certain amount of “excitement” that accompanies their side of the battle.

Written in 1951, “Witch War” hasn’t aged well. I wouldn’t be surprised though if this story particularly influenced Stephen King’s Carrie and Firestarter.

Review ~ As You Wish

As You Wish by Cary Elwes & Joe Layden

Cover via Goodreads

The Princess Bride has been a family favorite for close to three decades. Ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the top 100 Greatest Love Stories and by the Writers Guild of America as one of the top 100 screenplays of all time, The Princess Bride will continue to resonate with audiences for years to come.

Cary Elwes was inspired to share his memories and give fans an unprecedented look into the creation of the film while participating in the twenty-fifth anniversary cast reunion. In As You Wish he has created an enchanting experience; in addition to never-before seen photos and interviews with his fellow cast mates, there are plenty of set secrets, backstage stories, and answers to lingering questions about off-screen romances that have plagued fans for years! (via Goodreads)

I love behind-the-scenes stories. I’m a fan of DVD extras and making-of documentaries. I’ve read all of William Goldman’s books about screenwriting and movie making. (He’s the writer and screenwriter of The Princess Bride, if you didn’t know.) But most of all, I really enjoy it when the people involved have actual love and enthusiasm for the work they’ve done. To me, that’s so much better than ugly, gossipy stories.

As You Wish is all about the love. If Cary Elwes has any regrets about forever being Westley (at least a little), he’s keeping that under his black pirate mask. Not that it was an easy shoot. Between rainy rural England and grueling sword-fight training sessions, it was not a piece of cake. But it’s all about who you’re in a situation with and the many cast comments attest that it wasn’t only Elwes who felt Princess Bride magic. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that the movie would have been anything but a hit, but the production almost didn’t happen and the movie was only moderately successful. Thank goodness for cable TV and the home video revolution for bringing it to its eventual audience.

I listened to this as an audio book, read by Elwes, but including recordings by many of the cast, director Rob Reiner, and producers Andy Scheinman and Norman Lear. So, no never-seen-before photos for me, but instead Elwes dulcet tones telling me stories.

Publishing info, my copy: audio, Simon & Schuster, Oct 14, 2014
Acquired: Tempe OverDrive Digital Collection
Genre: Nonfiction, memoir