Bookish Things

Book Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

“Richard Mayhew is a young man with a good heart and an ordinary life, which is changed forever when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. His small act of kindness propels him into a world he never dreamed existed. There are people who fall through the cracks, and Richard has become one of them. And he must learn to survive in this city of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels, if he is ever to return to the London that he knew.”

Short Review

Neverwhere is a visually delectable fantasy that teases the imagination to consider what happens when we are not looking. Richard Mayhew, the main character, heroes the ordinary part in us all and asks us to reconsider what we define as mundane. The cast of indigenous “London Below” folk are mysterious and engaging, leaving me wanting to know more about their alternate reality. Neverwhere is an easy read for a quiet weekend. The plot only scratches the surface of its potential and leaves the reader wishing there was more weight to it. I found the story very enjoyable, though not one I would find myself ranting and raving about.

My rating: 3/5 (a good read)

Favorite Character(s): I really enjoyed the character Islington. I can explain in detail below the spoiler warning line. I also liked Door (who I think is a favorite of most). She has a quirky and quiet way about her that offsets the vibrancy of her physical appearance. Actually, I was very much impressed with the physical manifestation of each character in my mind’s eye. For that, I think I loved them all.

Favorite “Darling”: Again, as with Phoenix Holt, I really enjoyed the numerous descriptions of Door’s eyes. I love opal stones and the fact that her iris resembled one is so cool. I didn’t mind the constant reminder. Just like the stone, it seemed my idea of her eyes changed with every mention. In fact, I wish there had been more varied ways to describe her appearance.

I would recommend this to: I would recommend this to YA readers, or college students looking to decompress between heavy study loads. I would also recommend this to a fantasy enthusiast looking for an enjoyable read that doesn’t require a huge commitment.

Contains spoilers beyond this point. 

From a writer’s point of view: I have to admit I was a little disappointed after seeing such high reviews for Neil Gaiman. I understand that this is his first novel which softens the blow a little bit. Based on the reviews plastered to the back cover, I had the impression that it would be a little darker and a lot more gruesome then it ended up being. Instead, I feel like the plot kind of grazed over both of those things without pushing the reader’s comfort zone. I also would have liked to see more depth to Door’s motivation (or any character’s motivation, except Hunter). For example, the explanation for the murder of her entire family was a little under developed. The Marquis had so many layers that were unexplored, especially is experience in the Death realm. Door’s father was quickly spotlighted then forgotten about, though he was another intriguing personality.

Richard, as a character, was consistent and did not make any huge shifts as he overcame obstacles, and I really liked that. I felt that if he had been totally transformed it would have seemed expected and typical. I also really liked the imagery of the angel, Islington, and the very unique personality given to him. In fact, I found him to be the most complex and I was wishing there was more story to explain the history behind his jailing in London Below. He had the serenity of a psychopath and a mysterious responsibility to the sinking of Atlantis all the while appearing to be angelic and holy. I love characters with duality.

I think I had more fun browsing through fan art than I did actually reading the book. Gaiman was really able to evoke interesting imagery in the reader’s imagination when it came to his characters. It seemed as if he had taken care to develop them visually. I wish he would have done the same with the depth of their personalities and backgrounds. If that had been successfully achieved, I feel Neverwhere would easily be a book placed on my shelf of treasured stories. Rather it seemed as though it were just another “almost” book for me.

Book Haul: The Iliad Bookshop

Hidden away in North Hollywood is a little treasure called The Iliad. If it weren’t for the giant faux book spines decorating its exterior, you might miss this little secondhand bookstore. In the few precious years I’ve been visiting, the shelves have multiplied and the collection of books to choose from has become even more eclectic. While The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles is grand and imaginative, I think The Iliad is still my personal favorite. The atmosphere is comfortable and welcoming, easily allowing you to spend more time than you intended scouring for treasures. I particularly love the new (to me) addition of sitting couches near the children’s books.

My Haul:

The Basic Works of Aristotle, Edited by Richard McKeon: A synopsis is unnecessary but I think it’s cool to share that the book was printed in 1941. Greek philosopher.

Thoughts: This is a book for research purposes. I cannot say much more. You’ll just have to wait for Book Two!

Simplified Scientific Astrology by Max Heindel: 1973 edition

Thoughts: Again, another research book. The purpose is to expand perspectives and encourage new ideas in the meaning and science of astrology for my writing.

The Message of the Stars by Max Heindel: 1973 edition

Thoughts: Another installment of above perspective. I know little about the Rosicrucians, but browsing through the material, I found their point of view absolutely fascinating and I can’t wait to learn more about their opinions of astrology’s influence. Again another subject that the ancient Celts valued.

The History and Origins of Druidism by Lewis Spence: Originally published in 1947, this is a 1995 edition.

Thoughts: Again for research expansion. I am always a sucker for original thinkers. Anytime I find a new perspective on history, I eat it up!

I have a handful of unfinished blog posts waiting to be shared. I intend to slowly release them as I find time in between the progress of Book Two, so bare with me. In the meantime, keep reading and share your discoveries!

Book Haul: The Last Bookstore

Do not let Downtown Los Angeles fool you with its urine soaked facade. Behind the disenchanted faces who struggle to stay alive and the trash littered sidewalks are hidden gems that only a local would easily recognize. Old, tired buildings hide beautifully restored ballrooms behind their opaque windows. Faded signs divert attention away from the lively, soul filled open markets beyond them. But most important (to any literary addict) is a discreet building that hugs the corner of Spring Street.

Shamefully, I admit that this was my first trek to visit this book shop. But once the threshold had been crossed, it was clear that L.A. had definitely created a treasure. Worn books were stacked into tunnels, portals, and as supports to old couches and checkout stands. A faux vault cradled vintage bindings and a staircase lead to a labyrinth of fantasy, science fiction, and other curiosities.

Previously loved books were priced for possession by those of all budgets and only fate could lead you to titles you were meant to covet.

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Apparently, Samhain and my approaching road trip north took charge of my haul.

I could have easily spent another few hours grazing every spine and every shelf. I highly recommend a visit to anyone remotely in the area, you will be glad you did so.My Haul of Fate:

Druids by Morgan Llywelyn (quoted synopsis): “So spoke the young Celt Ainvar, centuries before the enchanted age of Arthur and Merlin. An orphan taken in by the chief druid of the Carnutes in Gaul, Ainvar’s talents would lead him to master the druid mysteries of thought, healing, magic, and the sway of battle, and they would make him a soul friend–the dazzling Prince Vercingetorix. The two youths were as different as fire and ice.

Yet Ainvar’s destiny lay with Vercingetorix, the sunbright warrior-king. Together they traveled through bitter winters and starlit summers in Gaul, rallying the splintered Celtic tribes against the encroaching might of Julius Caesar and the soulless legions of Rome….” (1991)

Thoughts: I initially plucked this off the shelf because I love anything to do with Druids, but also because I find the white robe to be humorously modern. Upon a closer look, this book received outstanding reviews for the author’s ability to create an authentic idea of how ancient Gaul might have been. Having been immersed in Celtic culture research myself, I am curious to find if anything I have learned will also apply here.

Daughter of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt (quoted synopsis): “In Daughters of the Witching Hill, Mary Sharratt brings history to life in a vivid and wrenching novel of strong women, family, and betrayal inspired by the 1612 Pendle witch trials.

Bess Southerns, an impoverished widow, lives with her children in a crumbling old tower in Pendle Forest. Drawing on Catholic ritual, medicinal herbs, and guidance from her spirit-friend Tibb, Bess heals the sick and fore-tells the future in exchange for food and drink. As she ages, she instructs her best friend, Anne, and her granddaughter, Alizon, in her craft. Though Anne ultimately turns to dark magic, Alizon intends to use her craft for good. But when a peddler suffers a stroke after exchanging harsh words with Alizon, a local magistrate tricks her into accusing her family and neighbors of witchcraft. Suspicion and paranoia reach frenzied heights as friends and loved ones turn on one another and the novel draws to an inevitable conclusion.” (2010)

Thoughts: I grabbed it for the title (I am a sucker for the sound of words…like witching). It had me at “strong women.” I have also had general curiosity about the different perspectives of witches. While interested, I have a feeling this one may sit for a while before I actually read it.

The Sky and the Forest by C.S. Forester (quoted synopsis): “This is the dramatic story of a man who was also a god. It tells how that man exchanged heavenly omnipotence for earthly power, and how the exchange was accompanied by the first faint intimations of human love– a story as old as Adam, and as new as sky travel.

In the beginning Loa was all-powerful in his tiny native village, brother of the forest, his friendly brother, and of the sky, the unfriendly one. Into this idyllic scene came the Arab raiders, burning, killing and enslaving the village under the hated whip and yoke. Terror and hardship forced Loa to realize he was only a man after all, but the change was made bearable by his wife, Musini, who continued to worship him as a god in public and perhaps let him think she did in private, while actually discovering a new tenderness for him as a man. Furthermore, Loa was not too slow to learn that where a god may rule a village, empires are man-made.” (1948)

Thoughts: This was my pick from the vault of vintage books. Which I usually pick for the cover or title. I will probably get drawn into this book for its philosophies and 1948 perspective of man.

Big Sur by Jack Kerouac (quoting Allen Ginsberg 10.10.91 NYC): “Each book by Jack Kerouac is unique, a telepathic diamond. With prose set in the middle of his mind, he reveals consciousness itself in all its syntactic elaboration, detailing the luminous emptiness of his own paranoiac confusion. Such rich natural writing is nonpareil in later half of XX century, a synthesis of Proust, Celine, Thomas Wolfe, Hemingway, Genet, Thelonious Mnk, Basho, Charlier Parker, and Kerouac’s own atheletic sacred insight.

Big Sur‘s a humane, precise account of the extraordinary ravages of alcohol delirium tremens on Kerouac, a superior novelist who had strength to compltete his poetic narrative, a task few scribes so afflicted have accomplished–other crack up. Here we meet San Francisco’s poets and recognize hero Dean Moriarty ten years after On the Road. Jack Kerouac was a ‘writer,’ as his great peer W.S. Burroughs says, and here at the peak of his suffering humorous genius he wrote through his misery to end with ‘Sea,’ a brilliant poem appended, on the hallucinatory Sounds of the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur.”

Thoughts: It’s Kerouac and it’s Big Sur. Both a rite of passage. If I need to explain further, the cover also quoted it as “his grittiest book,” and well….I love the word grittiest.

Maria Szepes

I was introduced to Maria Szepes by a friend of mine and I could not be more thankful for the gift. Even though her work is translated into English (from Hungarian), none of the beauty is lost. The Red Lion is one of the most influential books I’ve read as an adult.

The Red Lion  was written in 1946 and was considered nonconformist. The book was ordered to be destroyed but a librarian saved four copies and supporters of the novel typed copies to preserve it in underground communities before reaching a larger German publisher in 1984.

The story follows a man obsessed with alchemy and his reckless possession of the Elixir of Life. I felt as though every sentence was an example of perfection, the plot unreasonably profound, and the first book that truly frightened me psychologically. It’s extremely intellectual and requires slow, thoughtful reading but is not short on excitement. The reader progresses with Hans Burgner and the outstanding build of an alchemist’s philosophy, only to end in an eye-opened view of our world.

(One of my) Favorite Excerpt(s):

“He created a masterpiece, an apparently irrefutable theory that denied the existence of his own soul. Thus he closed the third eye, the spiritual sight, from the world of men. To replace this seeing eye, man developed the central brain, which acts like the groping finger of the blind.”

Copies are hard to come by, so search consignment/used bookstores or have a go on Amazon. It will be worth your time. I promise.

James Joyce

James Joyce is probably one of my favorite writers. I intend to reread and review his work in the future. I was introduced to his collection of short stories (DUBLINERS) in high school and immediately fell in love. The alliteration almost seems unintentional and gives such a smooth, songlike air to his stories. I also find his ability to jump from one character to the next remarkably believable. Although it may take some readers a bit to settle into his stream of consciousness style of writing (best exemplified in ULYSSES), it feels indulgent to me and allows one to really fall into the mind of the character; allowing a sense of private access into their psyche. To save you from mindless babble and praise click the link below to learn more about his genius:

bit.ly/1yjRobb

From Dubliners: “Eveline” by James Joyce

SHE sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her head was leaned against the window curtains and in her nostrils was the odour of dusty cretonne. She was tired.

Few people passed. The man out of the last house passed on his way home; she heard his footsteps clacking along the concrete pavement and afterwards crunching on the cinder path before the new red houses. One time there used to be a field there in which they used to play every evening with other people’s children. Then a man from Belfast bought the field and built houses in it–not like their little brown houses but bright brick houses with shining roofs. The children of the avenue used to play together in that field –the Devines, the Waters, the Dunns, little Keogh the cripple, she and her brothers and sisters. Ernest, however, never played: he was too grown up. Her father used often to hunt them in out of the field with his blackthorn stick; but usually little Keogh used to keep nix and call out when he saw her father coming. Still they seemed to have been rather happy then. Her father was not so bad then; and besides, her mother was alive. That was a long time ago; she and her brothers and sisters were all grown up her mother was dead. Tizzie Dunn was dead, too, and the Waters had gone back to England. Everything changes. Now she was going to go away like the others, to leave her home.

Home! She looked round the room, reviewing all its familiar objects which she had dusted once a week for so many years, wondering where on earth all the dust came from. Perhaps she would never see again those familiar objects from which she had never dreamed of being divided. And yet during all those years she had never found out the name of the priest whose yellowing photograph hung on the wall above the broken harmonium beside the coloured print of the promises made to Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque. He had been a school friend of her father. Whenever he showed the photograph to a visitor her father used to pass it with a casual word:

“He is in Melbourne now.”

She had consented to go away, to leave her home. Was that wise? She tried to weigh each side of the question. In her home anyway she had shelter and food; she had those whom she had known all her life about her. O course she had to work hard, both in the house and at business. What would they say of her in the Stores when they found out that she had run away with a fellow? Say she was a fool, perhaps; and her place would be filled up by advertisement. Miss Gavan would be glad. She had always had an edge on her, especially whenever there were people listening.

“Miss Hill, don’t you see these ladies are waiting?”

“Look lively, Miss Hill, please.”

She would not cry many tears at leaving the Stores.

But in her new home, in a distant unknown country, it would not be like that. Then she would be married–she, Eveline. People would treat her with respect then. She would not be treated as her mother had been. Even now, though she was over nineteen, she sometimes felt herself in danger of her father’s violence. She knew it was that that had given her the palpitations. When they were growing up he had never gone for her like he used to go for Harry and Ernest, because she was a girl but latterly he had begun to threaten her and say what he would do to her only for her dead mother’s sake. And no she had nobody to protect her. Ernest was dead and Harry, who was in the church decorating business, was nearly always down somewhere in the country. Besides, the invariable squabble for money on Saturday nights had begun to weary her unspeakably. She always gave her entire wages–seven shillings–and Harry always sent up what he could but the trouble was to get any money from her father. He said she used to squander the money, that she had no head, that he wasn’t going to give her his hard-earned money to throw about the streets, and much more, for he was usually fairly bad on Saturday night. In the end he would give her the money and ask her had she any intention of buying Sunday’s dinner. Then she had to rush out as quickly as she could and do her marketing, holding her black leather purse tightly in her hand as she elbowed her way through the crowds and returning home late under her load of provisions. She had hard work to keep the house together and to see that the two young children who had been left to hr charge went to school regularly and got their meals regularly. It was hard work–a hard life–but now that she was about to leave it she did not find it a wholly undesirable life.

She was about to explore another life with Frank. Frank was very kind, manly, open-hearted. She was to go away with him by the night-boat to be his wife and to live with him in Buenos Ayres where he had a home waiting for her. How well she remembered the first time she had seen him; he was lodging in a house on the main road where she used to visit. It seemed a few weeks ago. He was standing at the gate, his peaked cap pushed back on his head and his hair tumbled forward over a face of bronze. Then they had come to know each other. He used to meet her outside the Stores every evening and see her home. He took her to see The Bohemian Girl and she felt elated as she sat in an unaccustomed part of the theatre with him. He was awfully fond of music and sang a little. People knew that they were courting and, when he sang about the lass that loves a sailor, she always felt pleasantly confused. He used to call her Poppens out of fun. First of all it had been an excitement for her to have a fellow and then she had begun to like him. He had tales of distant countries. He had started as a deck boy at a pound a month on a ship of the Allan Line going out to Canada. He told her the names of the ships he had been on and the names of the different services. He had sailed through the Straits of Magellan and he told her stories of the terrible Patagonians. He had fallen on his feet in Buenos Ayres, he said, and had come over to the old country just for a holiday. Of course, her father had found out the affair and had forbidden her to have anything to say to him.

“I know these sailor chaps,” he said.

One day he had quarrelled with Frank and after that she had to meet her lover secretly.

The evening deepened in the avenue. The white of two letters in her lap grew indistinct. One was to Harry; the other was to her father. Ernest had been her favourite but she liked Harry too. Her father was becoming old lately, she noticed; he would miss her. Sometimes he could be very nice. Not long before, when she had been laid up for a day, he had read her out a ghost story and made toast for her at the fire. Another day, when their mother was alive, they had all gone for a picnic to the Hill of Howth. She remembered her father putting on her mothers bonnet to make the children laugh.

Her time was running out but she continued to sit by the window, leaning her head against the window curtain, inhaling the odour of dusty cretonne. Down far in the avenue she could hear a street organ playing. She knew the air Strange that it should come that very night to remind her of the promise to her mother, her promise to keep the home together as long as she could. She remembered the last night of her mother’s illness; she was again in the close dark room at the other side of the hall and outside she heard a melancholy air of Italy. The organ-player had been ordered to go away and given sixpence. She remembered her father strutting back into the sickroom saying:

“Damned Italians! coming over here!”

As she mused the pitiful vision of her mother’s life laid its spell on the very quick of her being–that life of commonplace sacrifices closing in final craziness. She trembled as she heard again her mother’s voice saying constantly with foolish insistence:

“Derevaun Seraun! Derevaun Seraun!”

She stood up in a sudden impulse of terror. Escape! She must escape! Frank would save her. He would give her life, perhaps love, too. But she wanted to live. Why should she be unhappy? She had a right to happiness. Frank would take her in his arms, fold her in his arms. He would save her.

She stood among the swaying crowd in the station at the North Wall. He held her hand and she knew that he was speaking to her, saying something about the passage over and over again. The station was full of soldiers with brown baggages. Through the wide doors of the sheds she caught a glimpse of the black mass of the boat, lying in beside the quay wall, with illumined portholes. She answered nothing. She felt her cheek pale and cold and, out of a maze of distress, she prayed to God to direct her, to show her what was her duty. The boat blew a long mournful whistle into the mist. If she went, tomorrow she would be on the sea with Frank, steaming towards Buenos Ayres. Their passage had been booked. Could she still draw back after all he had done for her? Her distress awoke a nausea in her body and she kept moving her lips in silent fervent prayer.

A bell clanged upon her heart. She felt him seize her hand:

“Come!”

All the seas of the world tumbled about her heart. He was drawing her into them: he would drown her. She gripped with both hands at the iron railing.

“Come!”

No! No! No! It was impossible. Her hands clutched the iron in frenzy. Amid the seas she sent a cry of anguish.

“Eveline! Evvy!”

He rushed beyond the barrier and called to her to follow. He was shouted at to go on but he still called to her. She set her white face to him, passive, like a helpless animal. Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition.

Book Review: Phoenix Holt by Gabriella Lepore

“When Sophie Ballester and her twin brothers, Sam and Todd, are uprooted from their home and sent to a remote boarding school run by their Great Aunt Ness, they stumble upon a hidden room that holds a secret—a secret that will change everything. The people of Phoenix Holt are not what they seem. In fact, nothing is.”

SHORT REVIEW

Phoenix Holt is a fast paced, plot driven novel for young adults. Lepore’s style of writing is witty and humorous without losing touch with her YA audience. She has a talent for creating believable dialogue that will engage any reader. The premise of the town, Phoenix Holt, is interesting and her characters are very accessible. Sophie, the main character, faces change and challenge with an abundance of hope, and her bright eyes are definitely a reflection of the light she exudes amongst a crowd of doubters.

My rating: 3/5 (a good read)

Favorite Character: I love Sam, one of Sophie’s twin brothers, because he is guided by honesty and has a hunger for truth. I also have a soft spot for rambunctious personalities.

Favorite “Darling”: The brass colored eyes of the Ballesters. I wish there could have been some kind of elaboration on this, or some reason it was a point of fixation in the author’s description. It conjured a great fantasy trait in my mind and I loved it.

I would recommend this to: Children and teens between 10-16. I am going to recommend this to a personal friend who reads chapter novels to her daughter. They are currently reading A Wrinkle In Time together and I think the adventurous, light plot will be appealing.

CONTAINS SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT.

From a writer’s point of view: The relationship between Sophie and Jaxon is both sweet and profound. Though both have a damaging opinion of who/what they are, they display an unbiased affection for one another. Jaxon is so conditioned to believe he is without human quality that he allows his sufferance to consume him and even inspires the elders to think the same. It is Sophie’s unmovable vision of his true essence that suggests a change in himself and those around him. Segregating a person for being different is a relevant theme with modern youths, and one I feel cannot be expressed enough (even to adults).

Another idea I found provoking, though it was only brushed against, was the author’s philosophy about envy and the power it holds over our human experience. The snarling, dark monsters that make a brief appearance in the plot feed and gain power from envious people (which she also describes as “the weak ones”). Again, this is another great idea to create conversation with young teens. Sophie’s brother, Todd, was our example in Phoenix Holt.

Todd was envious of Sam’s popularity and dominant personality, feeling inferior to his twin brother. He blames Sam for making him the lesser twin. This is an idea that I feel is important to bring up to young people. Instead of focusing on why he thought Sam was better than him, perhaps Todd could have remembered all the great things about himself (like his love of astronomy, or his quiet observance). Todd allowed himself to accept hurtful words as truth and let his idea of what’s “better” dictate his self-judgement. It is so important to teach childern to be kind to themselves as well as others.

I do wish I could have a better understanding about why the Ballesters were different than the other three witches that survived the Divellion attack. I also wish the reveal of their witch identity had been a little more climactic. Although, I didn’t mind the feeling that their witch identity was used as a catalyst to explain Jaxon’s secret phoenix identity. I found him to be an extremely interesting character and I selfishly wished there was more to learn about his power and the turmoil it stirred in him. These opinions only stem from a desire to know more, which I think is always good.

Overall, an enjoyable read that is well suited for a younger reader.  Curious to know more? Please visit Gabriella’s site for purchase options and more.

www.gabriellalepore.com