Friday, April 14, 2017

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

I had no particular reason for picking this up at the library except that it sounded good as I browsed the shelves. This is a book of short stories all focusing on immigrants.

The stories capture the people who fled to America and lost family along the way, who are now haunted by the ghosts of the dead. The ones who are sponsored and end up living in San Francisco with two gay men. The elderly professor who is battling, and losing, dementia and keeps calling his wife by the name of an old lover. And so on.

There are no heroic battles or anything spectacular with these stories, but they are solid and examine a snippet of the life of a refugee. Being forced to leave your country and land in another, very alien, country and try to survive takes courage.

All in all, a very good little book of short stories

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hugo Award Finalists Announced!

You can go here to see the list.

I always like book lists. Just more to add to my to-read pile! I'm slowly starting to get more into sci-fi so this seems like a good list to start from. Interestingly enough, I went to a talk by Charlie Jean Anders at Butler University recently. More on that to come......

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

I had finished reading Outlander back in December 2015 and, as much as I adored it, never got around to continuing the series. I watched the first season of the show (SWOON) and let season 2 pile up while I tackled Dragonfly in Amber. These are TOMES. I could hurl this book at a person's head and quite possibly knock them out cold. Dragonfly clocks in at about 740 pages.

 I ended up putting the actual book away and grabbed the audiobook, read by Davina Porter (fantastically read by, I might add), because I went a little crazy at the local library and checked out too many books. At least listening to Dragonfly kept me moving right along. I started reading this in February 2017 and, quite literally, just finished the book. I was thisclose to tearing into Voyager, the next book in the series, but stopped myself so I can finish my last library book. My goodness this is a fantastic series. To catch you up, here is my review of the first in the series, Outlander.

Dragonfly in Amber starts in a very unexpected way: Claire is back in her century, showing up on Roger Wakefield's doorstep in Invermess, in 1968. Roger, remember, was the little boy that Reverend Wakefield had adopted, whom we met in Outlander. Roger is quite grown up now and Claire arrives with her daughter, Brianna, a vibrant 20 year old red head. Start doing the math here, folks. Claire asks Roger to help research the fates of the clansman who fought at Culloden. In 1745, the Jacobites fight, and lose terribly, at Culloden, to try and put Charles Stuart back on the throne. It's a terrible battle that nearly wipes out the Scots and Claire wants closure, it seems, on the people that she knew and spent so many years with in 18th-century Scotland.

While researching, Roger, Brianna, and Claire seek out a cemetery and come across James Fraser's gravestone marked as the "Beloved Husband of Claire". That sparks the telling of her adventures to Brianna and Roger, including the telling of Brianna's true father, Jamie.

Part II takes us immediately to 1744, France, and Claire vomiting from morning sickness. Jamie and Claire are in "high society" France to do what they can to stop Charles Stuart from waging his war to gain the throne, using the Scots as pawns in his battle. A great deal happens on so many levels in Paris that I can't recount them all and, frankly, I wouldn't want to. This is a great story told by a great writer and it's worth the travel with Claire and Jamie.

We do end up back in Scotland, with many deaths, many upsets and many nail-biting moments. Claire, as we already know, ends up going back through the stones into her century and giving birth to Jamie's daughter, Brianna. The last bit of the book turned out to be more of a twisted path and left us with a shocking bit of revelation.

The audio book is approximately 38 hours long and the last, oh, 10 hours or so I devoured in 3 days. I really wished that I didn't have to sleep at that point...or work... but alas.

I highly recommend this series. It's daunting in size, but so very worth the time.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Choose my next book!

Or rather... choose my classic tome of 2017! 

Click to vote!

Voting is for one more week and you are choosing between:

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy's epic masterpiece intertwines the lives of private and public individuals during the time of the Napoleonic wars and the French invasion of Russia. The fortunes of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys, of Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei, are intimately connected with the national history that is played out in parallel with their lives. Balls and soirees alternate with councils of war and the machinations of statesmen and generals, scenes of violent battles with everyday human passions in a work whose extraordinary imaginative power has never been surpassed. 

The prodigious cast of characters, seem to act and move as if connected by threads of destiny as the novel relentlessly questions ideas of free will, fate, and providence. Yet Tolstoy's portrayal of marital relations and scenes of domesticity is as truthful and poignant as the grand themes that underlie them.

Roots by Alex Haley

When he was a boy in Henning, Tennessee, Alex Haley's grandmother used to tell him stories about their family—stories that went back to her grandparents, and their grandparents, down through the generations all the way to a man she called "the African." She said he had lived across the ocean near what he called the "Kamby Bolongo" and had been out in the forest one day chopping wood to make a drum when he was set upon by four men, beaten, chained and dragged aboard a slave ship bound for Colonial America.

Still vividly remembering the stories after he grew up and became a writer, Haley began to search for documentation that might authenticate the narrative. It took ten years and a half a million miles of travel across three continents to find it, but finally, in an astonishing feat of genealogical detective work, he discovered not only the name of "the African"--Kunta Kinte—but the precise location of Juffure, the very village in The Gambia, West Africa, from which he was abducted in 1767 at the age of sixteen and taken on the Lord Ligonier to Maryland and sold to a Virginia planter.

Haley has talked in Juffure with his own African sixth cousins. On September 29, 1967, he stood on the dock in Annapolis where his great-great-great-great-grandfather was taken ashore on September 29, 1767. Now he has written the monumental two-century drama of Kunta Kinte and the six generations who came after him—slaves and freedmen, farmers and blacksmiths, lumber mill workers and Pullman porters, lawyers and architects—and one author.

But Haley has done more than recapture the history of his own family. As the first black American writer to trace his origins back to their roots, he has told the story of 25,000,000 Americans of African descent. He has rediscovered for an entire people a rich cultural heritage that slavery took away from them, along with their names and their identities. But Roots speaks, finally, not just to blacks, or to whites, but to all people and all races everywhere, for the story it tells is one of the most eloquent testimonials ever written to the indomitability of the human spirit.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

'Call me Ishmael.' 

So begins Herman Melville's masterpiece, one of the greatest works of imagination in literary history. As Ishmael is drawn into Captain Ahab's obsessive quest to slay the white whale Moby-Dick, he finds himself engaged in a metaphysical struggle between good and evil. More than just a novel of adventure, more than an paean to whaling lore and legend, Moby-Dick is a haunting social commentary, populated by some of the most enduring characters in literature; the crew of the Pequod, from stern, Quaker First Mate Starbuck, to the tattooed Polynesian harpooner Queequeg, are a vision of the world in microcosm, the pinnacle of Melville's lifelong meditation on America. Written with wonderfully redemptive humour, Moby-Dick is a profound, poetic inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception.
Herman Melville is now regarded as one of America's greatest novelists. Much of the material for his novels was drawn from his own experience as a seaman aboard whaling ships. He wrote his masterpiece Moby-Dick in 1851, and died in 1891.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean—the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread—Les Misérables ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it, Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose. Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert, the desperation of the prostitute Fantine, the amorality of the rogue Thénardier, and the universal desire to escape the prisons of our own minds. Les Misérables gave Victor Hugo a canvas upon which he portrayed his criticism of the French political and judicial systems, but the portrait that resulted is larger than life, epic in scope—an extravagant spectacle that dazzles the senses even as it touches the heart.

Vote! Vote! Vote!

I want to read all of them but can only tackle one this year. Help me decide!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

I've heard of Scalzi, but I've never read anything by him. I assumed that, since I never cared for sci-fi growing up, I'm not going to ever enjoy sci-fi. Something neat must happen as you age because I enjoyed the HELL out of this book. What else have I missed? Who else do I need to start reading? I feel like I've lost a lot of time here!

I only meant to go renew my library card. My library is so smart, they place the new arrivals right as you walk in the door. You can't get to the front desk without seeing all those new, fresh, ready-to-be-read books. Scalzi was right up there and I thought "I've heard good things, maybe I should give it a try." So he went home with me,

I need to work on wrapping my head around sci-fi concepts of interplanetary living and space travel. But Scalzi's writing is so fantastic I didn't even care if some of the "light travel" concepts confused me. The Collapsing Empire is the first book in a new series (yay! now I get to wait for book 2!). Reading sci-fi is like working out, I think, the more I do it, the better I'll be at it. That's my theory anyways.

The Flow is an extradimensional field that people use to travel from planet to planet. You can't travel faster than light (physics!) so The Flow is necessary to trade at distant planets. The Earth is gone and new planets are inhabited by humans. It's good to know that ruling class still stands and humans are still out to make the most money and rule over the poorer people. Hub is the beginning and end of many of the Flow streams, hence...Hub, and the ruling house of Wu is the richest house while also being the Emperox of the entire planetary system. Several other houses, Lagos and Nohamapetan, want Wu's spot and they are willing to do whatever they need to in order to get it.

The Flow is disappearing. A Flow physicist who lives on End has been researching this for years, paid for by the previous Emperox. If the Flow to a planet disappears, that planet ceases to exist. The people of the planet are left on their own to die out over several years. Depressing, yes? The House of Nohamapetan gets similar information, except they are told the Flow streams are shifting and everything will move away from Hub and shift to End. Underhanded people that they are, they have a plan to rule End so when the shift happens, they will be the top dog.

Nothing goes to plan and it's entertaining to watch. I do adore that Lady Kiva from House Lagos swears like a sailor with Tourette's Syndrome. She's seriously my kind of girl.  I'm very ready for the next book to see where we go and I'm going to have to check out more of Scalzi's work. I'm in love!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I'm biased, I know, because I feel like Gaiman can do no wrong. I will read all of his books even if I'm a bit skeptical of the premise, such as Norse mythology. Not really my thing, but it's Neil Gaiman.

I have a new appreciation for Norse Mythology! Although, admittedly, I kept picturing Thor and Loki as Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston but, hey, movies ruin everything. Gaiman crafted the myths of gods with such an approach that made it less myth and more novel (captivating novel, no less).

He walks us through the players first: Odin, Thor and Loki. Then he guides us through all the pertinent stories that shape the myths from the Beginning to the End. The end leaves us with slaughter of the gods with Ragnarok. The story of Kvasir is actually the one that stuck with me the most. His blood, taken in a most brutal way, became the mead of poetry.

I appreciate short stories quite a bit as they take more thought and craft than long novels, I think. To be able to tell a story and engage the reader in just a few pages takes skill and Neil Gaiman has skill in abundance.

Even if you think Norse myths are not your thing, take a chance with this. Despite the unpronounceable names (how do you pronounce names that are almost all consonants???).... maybe listen to the audio :)

Top 10 Coolest Creatures from Norse Mythology

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I'm declaring this the best audio book of the year!!! I can't imagine how the written form looks because the audio was almost play-like with citations of sources all over the place. This really was a brilliant way to portray the death of Willie Lincoln and the grief of his father.

The bardo is the Buddhist concept of the space between life and moving on. The mid-life? Almost like purgatory, but, as is with most Buddhist concepts, leaving the decisions up to the deceased. In the bardo, the dead are not being punished or cleansed. They are dealing with their regrets and, for the most part, not even acknowledging that they are dead, despite seeing their own corpses inside their coffins (sick-boxes) in the cemetery (hospital-yard).

When Willie dies of typhoid at age 11, his body is sheltered in a borrowed mausoleum. Willie's ghost comes out in the night and we get introduced to the ghosts that are still refusing to leave the cemetery. Vollman (voiced by Nick Offerman), a printer, died when a beam caved in his skull and before he could consummate his marriage. Bevins (voiced by David Sedaris), is a young, closeted gay man who commits suicide when his lover dumps him for another man. When he was at death's door, he realized he didn't want to die. Unfortunately, it was too late and he is stuck in the bardo with great regrets. Reverend Thomas (voiced by George Saunders) is a confusing ghost. He has a permanent terrified look on his face but does not have real reason for not moving on. Later in the book, we get his story.

Abraham Lincoln visits his son in the night and holds him in the crypt. The ghosts are mesmerized and astounded that someone actually had someone who loved them visit. Willie decides to not move on so he can continue seeing his dad. Unfortunately, as ghosts tarry in the bardo, they begin to unravel mentally. Children begin losing touch very quickly and really should move on as fast as they can.

The audio book and it's cast of voices is simply mesmerizing. The hospital-yard portions are read from the point of view of all the ghosts who have not yet left and oh, those stories are heartbreaking. The Barons provided comic relief until you really listen to what they were saying about their lives, instead of how they said it. The moments of Lincoln grieving his son were so well done and can easily squeeze a tear from your eye.

The other part of the book is the story of Lincoln and how Willie died as told by citations of sources (some real, some invented). It's a bit jarring at first to hear so many citations but very quickly it melded into a good story, amusing at times for the sources that disagreed with each other ("The moon was red.", "The moon was bright white.", "There was no moon that night") and for the only time the sources agreed ("Lincoln was the homeliest of men","He was the ugliest man I've seen.","A homelier man was never found"). Poor Lincoln.

Saunders starts with the concept of the bardo but adds in so many different elements, including afterlife and how ghosts can influence living people, that it ends up being a really great mish-mash of different concepts. And really, who can tell if this would even be remotely true? We don't know what will happen when we die. Either way, this was fun, well-told, heartbreaking and thought-provoking. Get the audio book for this and skip the printed version. It will be worth it.

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

This had been on my list before Fisher died so when I got the Audible credit, I went ahead and bought it. I've read several other of Fisher's books and they made me laugh. I was hoping this would do the same and give me a behind the scenes look at the making of Star Wars.

There were definite parts of this book that were very funny. Fisher herself read the book with her daughter Billie reading other parts. Overall, though, this book actually made me feel a bit uncomfortable.

Fisher talked a great deal about her affair with a then-married Harrison Ford. Granted, it's 40 years after it happened and Ford has re-married twice more since then, but I think it was the "Maybe he'll divorce her and marry ME!" commentary that bothered me. Fisher was only 19 during the filming of Star Wars so her young, naive way of dealing with an older man made sense. The diaries that Fisher based this book on basically only covered the affair and her desperate need to have Ford just love her and swoop her away to bliss. This topic covered about 2/3 of the book.

There was a bit of funny insight from the set as well as some disturbing insight. I'm not sure Fisher found it disturbing, at least she blew it off in the book, but the crew getting a 19 year old female actor drunk as hell and then trying to escort her away from the party to be alone with them....that reads as dangerous to me. Fisher didn't believe any harm would come to her, but again, she was naive. "Luckily", Ford rescued her from the crew with the admonishment that she clearly couldn't make a decision for herself, only to go after her himself in the backseat of a car. Hence my Luckily in quotes. Harrison.....she was too drunk to make a decision for herself.

I did have trouble listening to a lovestruck, starry-eyed 19 year old girl's poetry. That wasn't the fun part of this book.

I think I will recommend Carrie's other books ahead of this one, but a die hard fan will still want to read The Princess Diarist.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Season of Stories: Free Streaming

Penguin Random House is offering up 6 weeks worth of stories, streaming freely to you! If you have an iPhone you can download the app. Otherwise, us Droid users can use the website at the link below.

The first stories are from Yaa Gyasi. You might remember how I gushed over Homegoing. No? Check out my review here.

Click me for stories!


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Uncaged by John Sandford and Michelle Cook

I'm a big fan of Sandford so I grabbed this from the library without reading anything about it. I wasn't terribly far into the audiobook when I had to stop and read up on it. It's not technically a typical Sandford, it's a YA Sandford! I thought the characters seemed awfully young....

The plot and premise were intriguing enough for me to continue, despite the youngness of it all. We start off with some animal rights activists who break into the Singular lab, which swears it's researching a cure for Parkinson's Disease, and let all the animals free. Thanks to an insider, they also know to steal the thumb drives with research and the hard drive to a computer to help decrypt the thumb drives.

Odin, a shy IT geek of a kid, is on the raid and ends up taking home a dog that has been experimented on. The crew heads off into the night after a gun-happy security guard starts shooting. The group is on the run.

Shay is Odin's sister who is staying with a new set of foster parents. Odin gets in touch to tell her what happened and that he's running and Shay is off, running away from the foster home in Oregon to LA to find her brother. Odin and Shay briefly meet up so Odin can hand over the dog. Shortly after the meeting, Odin is abducted off the street by Singular people.

Singular isn't quite the company they want you to believe. As Shay falls into a group of runaways and their "parental figure", Twist, they all start planning on how to take Singular down and get Odin back. Along the way, we find out more about what Singular is up to and why the dog is so special.

I had 15 minutes left of the audiobook when I decided they clearly couldn't wrap this up in time. Another check on Goodreads and hello! it's a series!

Don't let the YA label turn you off. This is a Sandford book through and through.

Underground Railroad: Free streaming!

The post below strongly encourages you to read Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Well, the BBC is making that easy on you!

Click the link to find a free stream of the Underground Railroad: Click me!

Free until March 22nd!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Typically, when I read one of Oprah's magazines, I pay attention to books she recommends. There have been hits and misses (she doesn't have the home runs like Books on the Nightstand had) but her interview with Colson Whitehead was very interesting. His new book, Underground Railroad, is historical fiction that re-imagines the Underground Railroad that we all (should) know as an actual railway system that spirits away slaves to freedom. I had never read any of Whitehead's book so I made a Goodreads note to try this out.

Then, Whitehead and this book were featured in the book review section of the New York Times. I can't possibly ignore this now, can I? This book is chasing me everywhere. I put myself in line for it at the library. And then, there it was on NPR. Alright! I'm getting it!

The actual underground railroad was a series of secret routes and safe houses.

In Whitehead's world, the railroad is literally underground and comes complete with station agents who help the escaped slaves continue on to a new life.

I don't want to make this book sound cute. It's not. It's brutal and painful to read. It may be fiction but it's based in history and what slaves endured is horrifying at best. The book follows Cora, a slave on the Randall plantation. Her grandmother, Ajarry, was kidnapped from Africa and brought over to work to the cotton fields. Ajarry had Mabel who had Cora. The chapters are broken up in a way that we learn about Ajarry, Mabel, Ridgeway (a slave catcher), Caesar (Cora's runaway companion), Ethel, etc. interspersed with chapters about the various states Cora ends up in.

Mabel is the only slave to have successfully escaped the Randall plantation. She left Cora behind and that has been burning inside Cora ever since she became a stray. When the somewhat decent but still bad Randall brother died, the absolutely horrible and tyrannical brother took over his plantation. This prompted Cora and Caesar to run away to freedom. Lovey, Cora's friend, realizing what they were doing, took after them to find freedom herself. After a skirmish with night hunters, Cora kills a young white boy who was trying to capture her. Caesar and Cora get away, Lovey does not. We find out Lovey's fate later in the book.

Once Caesar and Cora find the first tunnel to the railway station, they are on their way to South Carolina. From here, the book follows Cora as she assumes a new identity, works for wages and tries to make a life. Ridgeway, the slave catcher who failed to catch Mabel, is not letting Cora get away.

Being that this is fiction, I am very curious if the chapter about North Carolina is true. While all of the book is difficult to read, the North Carolina chapter was particularly horrific. I've never been able to wrap my mind around how people could be considered property and how humans could treat other humans so badly. Yet there it is, in our history, repeated over and over and over again continuing on to present day.

I've said a few times that this book is hard to read. It is but it's worth the read. Our history is painful and it should never be shoved under the rug because we don't want to acknowledge how horrible our ancestors acted towards other human beings. Whitehead hit this one out of the park. Thank you for writing this, Mr. Whitehead!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Full of Life by John Fante

When I really love an author, I try to find out who inspires the author because chances are very good I'll love their inspiration as well.

When I found at the Charles Bukowski was inspired by John Fante, I picked up a few of Fante's books and started reading. I, once again, show my skill for picking books out of order because I don't realize they are a series and read Ask the Dust right off. Way back in 2006, I remember enjoying the story a great deal but wondering how Bukowski was influenced by Fante.

I found Full of Life in my stacks and decided to get back to Fante. Almost 10 years later, here's what I see now: Fante is a storyteller and the story is every day life. In the three books I've now read, Fante shows us his life as a struggling writer who finds some success. I do feel, now, that Fante and Bukowski are branches on the same tree (maturity on my part? who knows).

Full of Life gives us a snippet of Fante's life with his very pregnant and emotional wife, Joyce. An atheist, something about having a baby turns her to Roman Catholicism, and she insists on John joining her. Already a lapsed Catholic, John doesn't immediately run back to church.

By this time, Fante has sold some books and has some money. He also, unfortunately, has bought a house with termites. He fetches his father, Nick, to help fix the damaged flooring. Nick is a dramatic curmudgeon who truly loves his son but gives absolutely no end of grief to Fante.

So here we go. Basic life as told by Fante. No explosions. No mysteries to solve. No plot, really, to speak of. It's a book, and author, worth reading.

The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide by Francine Jay

So, per Goodreads, I started this in April 2016 and finished it February 2017. Don't let that influence you that this was a bad book!

Around 2014, I got a desperate need to purge things from my house that I no longer needed. I was shoved in this direction by my friend's sudden death and all of her things left undone, with her family sorting through her belongings. I really felt the urge to get my space organized and minimized. I was on a good kick for a while (paycheck stubs from my first ever job at 17 years old? Yeah...gotta go!) but lost my steam. Everything seemed very overwhelming. And my house continued to feel very FULL.

I downloaded this book on a recommendation and appreciated the breaking down of the pieces of getting rid of clutter and keeping it away. The reason it took so long to finish is because I was putting it down and going to a room and starting to declutter. See? It works!

Jay tackles every room and occasion (including your wedding clutter, if you have it) as well as mental clutter. Becoming a minimalist in body, soul and home is an aspiring thing. I'm happy that I've already made some good changes, but looking around, I have a ways to go.

Moving forward towards that minimalist lifestyle!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Chase by Janet Evanovich

The second in the Fox and O'Hare series. While some of the circumstances these two get into are a bit far-fetched, I love them. I love that Kate is a kick ass woman who doesn't need saving and that her ideas are often the ones that "save the day". These two characters really work well together and play off of each other nicely.

The Heist is all about a bronze rooster. Donated by the Chinese and living in the Smithsonian, the Chinese want it back. They send someone to come get it and while, normally, this isn't a problem, it's a problem. The rooster at the museum is a fake and we can't send a fake back to China, can we? Enter Fox and O'Hare, to steal back the real rooster and replace the fake before the rooster heads to China.

They are up against an asshole of a guy who is basically a rich, well protected jerk who buys stolen art. Thankfully, Fox and O'Hare know how to handle him. Which they do in quite a clever way, until the asshole, Carter Grove, realizes he's been robbed of the rooster. He sends an assassin their way, the Chinese pick up guy arrives early and the fake rooster is already on it's way to China and ....well, heck breaks loose.

Kate and Nick....they got it handled.

I'm enjoying this series more and more. Can't wait to get on to the next one.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich

Another Stephanie Plum book. Same premise as the 21 books before, same characters, same plot devices. Same laughs and entertainment factor, so I'm not complaining.

Plum and Lula are out to grab a college kid who skipped his court date. Somehow, this ends them up in the middle of an insane professor's plan to release fleas infected with the bubonic plague on the campus. There's also a quick encounter with a serial killer that chops up women and feeds the pieces to feral cats. And Morelli gets a colonoscopy.

Just read it. If you are a fan, you'll like it.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I listened to this through the CraftLit podcast. This is another of those classic books where everyone knows the story (but please stop calling the monster Frankenstein) but very few people have actually read the story.

This was not the Frankenstein story I thought it would be.

(although I still really like Young Frankenstein)

Victor Frankenstein is a regular guy who has a deep interest in the natural sciences. He works feverishly to create a being, a life. There is very little fanfare when the monster awakens in the novel. What is evident is Victor's horror at what he has done. Victor abandons the monster to it's own devices while he goes into a "frenzy" or hysterical illness and is out of commission for quite a while. Quite literally, he lays eyes on his creation for moments before not seeing it again for YEARS.

Victor is a putz. He abandoned his creation because he didn't like how it looked. He created human life and turned his back on it. How differently this story would have been if he had taken the time to teach the monster how to be a decent human. But you can't really teach what you don't know, can you?

A member of Victor's family is found murdered with another member of the family arrested for it. Victor knows it's the monster getting his revenge. Yet each and every time he encounters the monster, he does nothing but flail at the injustice to HIM, Victor.

We get the monster's side of the story and end up very sympathetic to him while thinking more and more that Victor is a putz.

A showdown between the two is inevitable yet, Victor fails again to do anything. In the end, Victor dies without having stopped the monster and the monster moves on.

Excellent novel with a lot of "Really? Isn't that a coincidence?" which only sidebarred me a little. We needed the coincidences to keep the plot moving. This is very much a Romantic style novel (not Hallmark romantic....era Romantic) and Victor's flailing and monologues were a tad much for me sometimes. Overall, I'm so glad I now have the original Frankenstein under my belt. The movies misinformed me! :)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

I'm truly going to try and keep up with the local book club this year. This is our first book and I really struggled reading it. The prose felt strangled and I kept getting dropped out of the actual story by the language. I read quite a bit and have a pretty good vocabulary but I had to keep asking me Kindle to define words because there was little to no context. Boom...dropped again.

I found that I didn't really want to finish this book but now I have an accountability partner for book club so I picked it up again and got myself through Part One.

Tony Webster and his friends bring new kid Adrian into their clique. The kids all sounded pretentious enough that I wanted to slap them but we sort through them "dealing" with a fellow students suicide. Dealing as in, it really doesn't seem like they cared. They move on through college with Tony getting a girlfriend, Veronica. There's nothing about her that seems remotely redeemable and, by the end of the novel, I really think she's only in this book to drop clues. Eventually, Tony and Veronica break up and Veronica and Adrian get together.

Then Adrian commits suicide.

Part Two actually got me more interested. Tony marries, has a kid, divorces. He moves through his mundane and adequate life. A perfectly acceptable, simple life. When he gets a letter from a lawyer letting him know that he came into money and documents from Veronica's mother when she passed. Oh, intrigue! Tony goes on a retiree's quest to get the documents from Veronica, which turn out to be Adrian's diary. Here is where Veronica is particularly 2D and useless. I will admit that the story picked up a bit, once you ignore the writing, and led to an interesting twist. A twist that I was completely unsure of when I got to it and had to go and re-read several sections and then check the interwebz to see if I was right. I was and that was weird.

So, Amanda, you say....was there anything you liked?

Yes, thanks for asking!  The gist of this book is about memory. How what you think you remember isn't really the reality you should remember. Tony reframed his memories to feel better about himself so when he sees his letter to Adrian and Veronica, he got a rude awakening of how horrible he actually was. We all do this, don't we? We smooth away the rough edges of memories so we can live with them and go on with our mundane lives.

I wrote down a section because it did hit home. My mundane life was stifling me so last year I made an effort to get out of my comfort zone and travel. This year, I have no desire to see another airport again for a long time, but I'm very happy I finally did the "immature" thing and packed my bags and winged around the country.

We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe.
We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly.
What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them.

I've always prided myself on being a mature, responsible realist.....maybe not anymore.