Book Review: House of Cards by Michael Dobbs

House of Cards (Francis Urquhart, #1)House of Cards by Michael Dobbs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

*Note: I’ve only read the American version of the novel, which is different from the original.

If you haven’t seen the eponymous [American] TV series: This novel is a well-written, tightly plotted, account of a fictional UK party whip’s political ascent. Reading about Francis Urquhart’s rise to power is like watching one of those complex domino setups where the pieces sometimes cause multiple lines to fall, but they all come together neatly in the end. The ending is incredibly satisfying even though you probably won’t want it to be. It’s also no small accomplishment that Francis Urquhart’s actual party is never named—there’s the Party and the Opposition**—and the novel still flows smoothly, relying on just enough description of issues such as health care funding to provide a sense of context without getting bogged down in it.

If you have seen the eponymous [American] TV series: Read the book. I love Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in the TV series, but the book is better. Francis Urquhart’s schemes are more plausible and involve fewer obvious loose ends or room for error than Frank Underwood’s; Urquhart’s relationship with the press, especially one particular member, makes more sense in that it benefits him more directly (and comes across as something he would be more likely to actually undertake). The book’s Mattie also comes across as more clever than the TV show’s Zoe; Claire Underwood’s counterpart is, unfortunately, largely absent (always out at theater productions of Wagner) and not shown to be half as formidable.

**You can still tell from the way the characters talk about Thatcher that the Party is likely meant to be the Conservative Party, but it’s written in such a way that whichever party it is has no bearing on the reader’s enjoyment of the text.

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It’s that time of year again…

…the time for me to tell you all that no, I’m really not dead, I’ve just been doing other things, and have I mentioned my incredibly long commute and its lack of wi-fi?

In other news, I ran the Frederick Half-marathon in 1:36:20 (PR!) and ended up placing first in the female 25-29 age group. So that was cool. Since it really has been that long since I’ve updated, I also ran the Baltimore Marathon last October with a time of 3:41:33.

I have been doing other writing (i.e., that novel I talk about occasionally), and I just got a promotion at work, which will mean longer hours on that front. That said, I have some ideas for posts in the works, so I’ll try to get them queued during the long weekend.

Updates

My stats checker for this blog is telling me I haven’t posted anything since April, and since that last post was a playlist about how “April is the cruellest month,” I figure I should post something to let people know I’m still here and that I haven’t abandoned this blog.

A list of things that have happened since my last post:

Cherry blossoms around the Jefferson Tidal Basin (pretty!)

Cherry blossoms around the Jefferson Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., Apr. 11, 2015.

  • My mother and I went to the Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C. It was beautiful but insanely crowded, as you might be able to tell from my photo above. We got there later in the day and missed the parade; I imagine walking around the tidal basin and other monuments would be better earlier, even before the parade if possible.
  • I got into a car accident–no injuries; I wasn’t at fault–and ended up with my car totaled. After a few weeks of searching (and living with my mother to get a ride to the train station every day), I was able to find a used Honda in good shape.
  • My boyfriend and I saw the Folger Shakespeare Library’s production of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, which was amazing–the acting, the set, the way they handled the insertion of the lines from Hamlet with Stoppard’s material. It’s showing all next week, so if you know you’ll be in the area and are looking for something to do one evening or during the day next Saturday, I would highly recommend checking it out. While we were there, we also went on one of their tours of the reading room and saw their current exhibition, Ships, Clocks, & Stars: The Quest for Longitude, both of which I’d also highly recommend.
  • I ran the Frederick Half-Marathon, finishing with a time of 1:40:32, which I didn’t think was too bad, considering I had never run a half-marathon before, and the last time I ran competitively (with fancy timing equipment and everything) was in high school. According to the results, I came in 258th out of 3,982 people, and 12th for my division (women 25-29). I also saw a friend from high school track and cross-country before the race, which was neat. The only person I saw after the race was my boyfriend: I went out in 6:25 and slowly crashed from there, which meant my boyfriend got a call from the medical tent after I had finished and had to lay down due to somewhat serious dehydration. (Does anyone have any advice how to take the water/Gatorade stations?) I’m signed up for the Baltimore Marathon in October; I’m not sure if I want to try to run a better half-marathon instead at that event or just go for the full thing.

Also, happy Father’s Day! Half the internet is full of heartwarming stories about dads, and the other half is full of bitterness from people who had either absent or actively terrible dads, so wherever you fall on that spectrum, I hope you’re having the best day possible. My father committed suicide when I was three; my mother’s father died eleven years ago; and my father’s father lives across the country, so I’m spending today with my mother, who is very much alive. Even sans father, it’s been a happy day.

April is the cruellest month…

A playlist mixing memory and desire (and heartbreak), representing all the vibrant, stirring, and violent impulses of spring.

[Titles, in case Spotify isn’t loading:]

Wild Creatures | Neko Case
Night Still Comes | Neko Case
Après Moi | Regina Spektor
Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) | Florence + The Machine
Veins | Charlotte Martin
This Tornado Loves You | Neko Case
The Garden | Mirah
Bloodbath for Birds | Squalloscope
Steel | Charlotte Martin
Blinding | Florence + The Machine
Eyes On Fire | Blue Foundation

Black Ice

Stay safe in the snowstorm, everybody in the northeastern U.S. The storm, as nearly every major news outlet in the country and as several in other countries are reporting, is here, and will likely be/continue to be terrible.

Since it’s relevant, and I mentioned winter songs earlier, have a couple. The first one’s solemn, by the same artist who sang the theme song for the mid-2000s sci-fi show The 4400, which is how I found it in the first place.

The second’s uplifting, by the wonderful, vibrant Neko Case, who will absolutely rally you against the forces of darkness and blizzards (and depression) and all that is wrong with winter in general.

I’m headed to bed, hoping I don’t have to brave real black ice on the roads tomorrow morning. Again, stay safe; stay warm.

I have a life!

Guess where my boyfriend and I were last weekend.

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Did you guess the Philadelphia Museum of Art? If you did, just based on that one photo, that’s actually kind of impressive. Do you live in Philly? go there often? have such an intimate knowledge of the Rocky movies that you have the building facade and steps imprinted permanently in perfect detail in your memory?

(There is a Rocky statue on the ground near the front steps. I didn’t get a picture, but you could if you went there and wanted to. Whenever I visit the museum, there’s always a line of people leading up to the statue, waiting to take a picture in front of rocky Rocky, there frozen in his pose of triumph. There’s also usually a person selling t-shirts nearby.)

I didn’t take many photos inside the museum, but I did get a decent one of the nearby Philadelphia skyline. Enjoy.

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