Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Long Earth (Science Fiction Novel)

Parallel Universes. Stepping. Potatoes. Nuns. Trolls. Elves. 

What if humanity could suddenly step into parallel universes? What would people choose to do? How would society change? What would happen to our original home? What would happen to those individuals who lacked the ability to go to different universes? These are some of the questions explored in The Long Earth, written by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.

Briefly, in the opening chapters, someone creates a devise that allows almost anyone to travel to different universes. Later, we learn that there are natural born steppers who don’t need the devise. One of them is Joshua, who along with Lobsang, an AI, attempts to learn more about the universes and their purposes.

I have a mixed reaction to The Long Earth. I enjoyed the concept of the parallel universes. I appreciated the wonderful world building, especially how the universes differed from one another. I liked how the authors explored the social impact. I was a bit frustrated by the plot. It feels like much of the book is setting the reader up for something. At this point, I don’t know if this is a two part story or part of a longer series or a novel with a very disappointing ending. I also had problems with Lobsang, who I felt distracted from the story. I would rather have had a brilliant scientist or group take his place. All and all, my fascination with the parallel universes made this an easy and enjoyable story to read.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Map of the Sky (Science Fiction Novel)

Hoaxes. Time Travel. Alien Invasion. Parallel Universes. Antarctica. Love. Maps. 

The Map of the Sky, written by Felix J. Palma and translated into English by Nick Castor, is a blend of science fiction, alternative history, and horror, with a sprinkling of romance. It is a sequel to The Map of Time and continues to feature a fictionalized version of HG Wells. Some of the scenes are beautiful and touching. We learn of a beautiful map of the universe that was created by a sentimental trickster and passed down from mother to daughter. Many of the scenes are downright horrifying. We have no doubt that the aliens are evil.

Like The Map of Time, The Map of the Sky has three major storylines. In the first storyline, we learn about a devastating encounter between some Antarctic explorers and a “Martian.” In the second storyline, Wells is asked to help an old rival reenact a scene from War of the Worlds. When parts of the novel come to life, Wells never suspects who is really behind them. In the third storyline, Charles, who we met in The Map of Time, is in a prison camp and writes a diary about what happened to Wells and company.

I confess that this book had a bit too much horror for me. Some of the images were still floating around in my head as I tried to go about my everyday life. Yet, this novel has so much of what I love: noble, likeable characters; action; touching scenes; good world building. If Palma writes another story based on one of Wells’ novels, I probably will, reluctantly, read it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Power of Books (Quote)

“Why didn’t you take your own life, then, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“…books are what kept me going.”
 “Yes, reading is my only pleasure, and there are so many books left to read. For that reason alone it is worth going on living. Books make me happy, they help me escape from reality … Writers perform an extremely important role: they make others dream, those who are unable to dream for themselves. And everyone needs to dream. Could there be a more important job in life than that?” 
Felix L Palma in The Map of the Sky

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Map of Time (Science Fiction)

Perhaps those troubling sounds we hear in the night, the creaking noises we assume are the furniture, are simply the footsteps of a future self watching over us as we sleep, without daring to disturb us. 

The Map of Time, written by Felix J. Palma and translated into English by Nick Castor, is a blend of historical fiction and science fiction, with just a dash of mystery. It is entertaining, sometimes poignant, and sometimes amusing. It is set at the end of the 1800’s and includes both historical and fictional characters.

Briefly, the novel consists of three main storylines that share a number of characters. The real life writer H. G. Wells plays some part in each plot. While the narrator is omniscient, s/he has a personable style. In the first storyline, Andrew falls in love with a prostitute. When she is murdered by Jack the Ripper, Andrew is inconsolable. To save his life, his cousin devises a plot to have Andrew go back in time and kills Jack the Ripper before he kills the woman. In the second plot line, a young woman travels to the year 2000, where a hero saves mankind. She falls in love with him. In order to prevent tragic consequences, H. G. Wells must help out. In the third plotline, people are being murdered with a weapon that does not yet exist. H. G. Wells’ help is enlisted to find the murderer.

The novel contains a beautiful chapter that could easily be a stand alone short story. Earlier in the novel we learn that Wells has a basket, which he gently touches for inspiration when writing his novels. It appears to be some sort of fetish. In this chapter we learn the origins of the basket. After reading one of Wells' short stories, The Elephant Man invites Wells for tea. Wells is both repulsed and fascinated by the man. Finally, Wells sees his humanity.

Needless to say, I enjoyed this novel immensely. I am a fan of time travel novels and of H. G. Wells in particular; I read The Complete Science Fiction Treasury of H. G. Wells earlier this year. I am looking forward to reading Palma's follow-up novel, The Map of the Sky.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Gone with the Wind (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

An Idealized Love. A Family Estate. Slavery. A Promise. War. Poverty. Reconstruction. Survival. The Victors. The Vanquished. Money. Opportunity. 

I started reading Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind with a feeling of dread. This winner of the 1937 Pulitzer for the Novel is over a thousand pages of almost solid description and little dialogue; this is a long, long novel. On top of that were the expectations. It is considered one of America’s most beloved novels and was made into one of America’s most beloved movies. I had never even seen the movie. After over four weeks of nightly reading, I can say that this is also one of my favorite novels.

Briefly, the story begins with a sixteen-year old Scarlett, who is the oldest daughter of cotton plantation owners in Georgia. She teases her many male admirers but is in love with Ashley. Her first crisis is when he announces his engagement to Melanie, his cousin. Out of spite, Scarlett decides to marry Charles, Melanie’s brother. The only person who knows the truth is Rhett, who had earlier overheard Scarlett confess her love for Ashley. Thus, the die is cast for the rest of the novel. After the death of Charles, Melanie becomes Scarlett’s closest ally. Scarlett and Rhett bicker through most of the novel. Scarlett continues to pine for Ashley. All their lives are shaped by the Civil War and the subsequent Reconstruction. The story ends when Scarlett is twenty-eight.

Scarlett is a fascinating character. Sometimes I loathed her; sometimes I loved her. I often admired her. At times I felt sorry for her. She is a character that many women have used as a role-model.

I admire Margaret Mitchell’s writing. The plotline has a succession of dramatic rises and falls, keeping the reader’s interest, and ends in a final resolution. I suppose a modern editor might have suggested breaking the novel down into smaller books. The major characters are complex. Mitchell shows multiple sides of their personalities as the plot progresses.

For me, one of the first rewards of reading Gone with the Wind was that I finally understood some of the allusions to it that I had seen in the popular media. A classic Carol Burnett skit shows Carol wearing a curtain with the rod still in it. Now I know the scene from Gone with the Wind that it comes from.

If you haven’t read Gone with the Wind, I would encourage you to do so. To make life easier, you can find an audio or digital version. The novel is a key part of the American literature.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Night Lamp (Science Fiction Novel)

Striving. Amnesia. Revenge. A Secret Past. Clam Muffins. 

Night Lamp, by Jack Vance, is a space opera, with a dusting of mystery and satire. According to Worlds Without End, the novel is listed in the book Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985–2010.

Briefly, two visiting scholars, a married couple, rescue Jaro, a six-year-old boy who is about to be beaten to death by a gang of boys. The doctors who treat Jaro discover that he has recently sustained an emotional trauma so severe that it threatens his life. Their treatment essentially erases his earlier memories. The couple adopts Jaro and takes him back to their home planet, where the culture is focused on social striving. Jaro dreams of becoming a spaceman so he can find out about his past. His well-meaning adopted parents try to keep it a secret from him until he finishes his education. When they are tragically killed, he is left to uncover the mystery for himself. Where did Jaro’s adopted parents find him? What happened in the first six years of his life? Who is the mysterious man in his memories? What is the voice in Jaro’s head?

Night Lamp was not my cup of tea. The characters were likeable enough. The plot was interesting enough and had a number of interesting twists. The world view was fresh. But, I never totally resonated with the novel. I never became fully involved in the plot and wasn’t always sure what was meant to be funny and what was meant to be serious. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Fistful of Collars (Mystery Novel)

A Cold Case. Murders. An Actor with a Secret. A Police Officer with Ulterior Motives. Various Dogs and One Cat.

I am always delighted by a new Chet and Bernie book. A Fistful of Collars, by Spencer Quinn (Peter Abrahams), is the fifth installment in the series. The novel is warm, funny, and a good who-done-it. All my favorite characters, including Iggy the dog, are back, but even a canine-appreciating newbie to the series could enjoy the novel.

Briefly, after deciding the town should get into the movie business, the mayor’s office hires Bernie and Chet to make sure an actor does not get into trouble. Since Bernie and the mayor have an unpleasant history, Bernie suspects something isn’t quite right. Soon Bernie discovers a dead body that might have to do with the actor’s past. While sleuthing, Bernie uncovers an unsolved murder from the past. When one of his sources, one of Chet’s favorite dog treat givers, ends up dead, the case turns personal.

What is not to love? The story kept me guessing to the end. The dog-centered narrative made me laugh. I found Bernie and Chet likeable and tender. Bring on novel number six!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Darker than You Think (Classic Fantasy Novel)

A Box. A Cat. Dogs. Wolves. Genetics. Silver. Dreams. Psychoanalysis.

I can almost see the fog roll out of the pages of Darker than You Think by Jack Williamson. Originally published in 1948, it is vintage horror, combining fantasy, mystery, and just enough science to make it credible. The age of the novel adds to the enjoyment, making it easier for the reader to imagine eerie scenes.

Briefly, Will Barbee is a reporter, who was once a student of the anthropologist Dr. Mondrick. In the opening scene, Barbee is at an airport, waiting for Mondrick’s plane to touch down. There Barbee meets another reporter, a mysterious red head named April Bell. After Mondrick's plane lands, he begins to announce a startling discovery that will change the world the contents of a mysterious box are his proof but, he collapses and dies before he can complete the announcement. His colleagues whisk the box away and risk their lives protecting it. Barbee suspects that April is responsible for Mondrick’s death, but he feels more fascination than fear toward her. Soon, he begins to have strange dreams in which he is transformed and is accompanied by a white, female wolf. When some of the details of the dreams are confirmed in his waking life, he searches for the truth. What is inside the mysterious box, and what does it have to do with him? 

I am not a fan of horror, but I thoroughly enjoyed Darker than You Think. It is fast paced, has interesting characters, and, although I suspected what would happen in the end, kept me guessing. I also have a tremendous respect for Williamson, who helped blaze a trail for modern horror writers.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mission of Gravity (Classic Science Fiction Novel)

Experiencing Gravity. Flying. Exploring. Throwing. Trading. Overcoming Physical Obstacles. Strategizing. Communicating. Retrieving Something Valuable. 

Imagine a world where an intelligent species does not have words for such concepts as “flying” or “throwing.” In 1953 Hal Clement gave us the classic science fiction story Mission of Gravity, set in a world with intense gravity. Clement’s ability to create a convincing world is what makes this a classic. Never mind that in later years some of the scientific details would be disproved. According to Worlds Without End, the novel is on at least six major science fiction lists.

Briefly, Mission of Gravity takes place on Mesklin, a world shaped like a flattened sphere. The gravity at the equator is a number of times stronger than Earth and at the poles hundreds of times stronger. The Mesklinites, who look similar to large caterpillars, are an intelligent species. One of them, Barlennan, forms a relationship with Lackland, a human exploring the planet. When a rocket containing valuable scientific information is lost in a high gravity region, Lackland must enlist the help of Barlennan and his group to retrieve the information. As the gravity grows stronger, Lackland must part company with the group and help via radio (television?) contact. We soon learn that cute Barlennan is actually a shrewd trader and strategist.

Once again, I am reminded that current generations of science fiction authors stand on the shoulders of earlier generations. Mission of Gravity has good world-building and a relatively interesting plot. The novel represents major progress from standard 1950’s science fiction. By modern-day standards, this book might be considered quaint and, at points, a bit overly focused on mechanical details. At a few points, the humans, who are watching from space, take out their slide-rulers to make calculations. This novel is well worth reading.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Time Keeper (SF/Fantasy Novel)

A long time. Right on time. Out of time. Mind the time. Be on time. Spare time. Keep time. Stall for time.
There are as many expressions with “time” as there are minutes in a day.
But once, there was no word for it all. Because no one was counting.
Then Dor began.
And everything changed.
The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom is part modern day novel, part fantasy, and a bit science fiction. This short novel touches our hearts and encourages us to examine our beliefs about time. The novel has hints of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. The plot spans from a past six thousand years ago to a future where the cryogenically preserved learn their fate.

Briefly, The Time Keeper has three interweaving storylines. Dor, who lived at the time of the Tower of Babel, is fascinated by counting. He inadvertently invents time keeping. As his wife is dying of the plague, he asks the gods to stop time. His wish leads to him being banished to a cave for six thousand years. Ultimately, he must complete one last task, to teach two strangers what he has learned about time. Victor is the fourteenth richest man in the world, and he is dying of cancer. Trying to control his death as he controlled his life, Victor decides to have himself cryogenically preserved until there is a cure for his illness. Sarah is a smart but not so popular teenager. She becomes infatuated with a fellow teenage volunteer at a homeless shelter. Her crush leads her to despair.

I finished The Time Keeper early Sunday morning, a time when I normally read spiritual books. This seemed appropriate. Not only is The Time Keeper a good story, but it is also a story about values, the meaning of our lives, and our connection with something beyond us. It is a story I expect to ponder for a long time.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Bertie Plays the Blues (Novel)

Family. Friendship. Gender Roles. Elvis. Masons. Nudists. Old Lovers. Lies. Change. 
The blues. Sad, haunting music—even when played by a little boy; but this was no average small boy, this was Bertie, who had had so much to worry about in his short life; who wanted only to have fun, to explore the world, to do the things he had seen other boys do; who wanted to wear jeans rather than pink dungarees; who wanted a dog; who wanted to play rugby and cricket and have a bicycle with racing handlebars… 
Bertie Plays the Blues is the seventh book in Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series. (See my post on The Importance of Being Seven for a quick description). Like the previous books, this one is humorous, touching, and philosophical. While the novel has various major and minor plotlines, the themes of gender roles and lying appear repeatedly. Although an eight book is in the works, Bertie Plays the Blues has a bit of the feel of a final book in a series.

Briefly, Bertie has had enough and goes in search of a new family, first putting himself on E-bay and then trying to have himself adopted. Stewart finally stands up to Irene. Mathew and Elspeth try to cope with being the parents of triplets. Big Lou tries on-line dating. An old lover appears in Domenica’s life, complicating her relationship with Angus. Antonia, who is about to take vows as a nun, gives an expensive painting to Angus and asks him to sell her apartment. Pat again works for Mathew in the art gallery.

Like the other books in the series, Bertie Plays the Blues is a delight. Despite the novel not be scheduled to be released here until next year, I managed to find a copy. In the midst of frightening world events, reading the books in the 44 Scotland Street series creates a little oasis of peace.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Last Song of Orpheus (Fantasy Novel)

Music of the Spheres. A Voyage. Destiny. Fate. The Netherworld. The Golden Fleece. Mysteries. 
To fulfill my role in maintaining the great harmony of the universe I must go from place to place as I am told, either to teach or just to sing and play, as is needed.
The above quote sums up The Last Song of Orpheus by Robert Silverberg. The novel is short and simple, but beautiful and poetic. Using a first person narrative, it brings to life the character of Orpheus, a musician from Greek mythology.

The Last Song of Orpheus also makes the reader think. Do we have freewill or are we at the mercy of fate? Can we unite the Apollo and Dionysus within ourselves? Can we perceive the music of the spheres underneath all that we experience in our world?

The Last Song of Orpheus is a worthwhile little book.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Importance of Being Seven (Novel)

“And how about some chocolate?”
Nobody had ever said that to Bertie before. How about some chocolate? It was not a complex phrase but its power, its sheer, overwhelming sense of gift and possibility filled Bertie with awe. 
Bertie and Irene, Mathew, Angus and Cyrus, and the rest of the gang are back in The Importance of Being Seven, the sixth book in Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series. For those new to the series, each book was originally published in the Scotsman newspaper, in daily installments, over a number of months. (The book form is slightly edited.) This makes for an interesting style. There are a number of short plotlines, as well as some overarching ones. The most beloved character in the series is Bertie, who has a domineering mother and longs to be just a normal little boy. Like the earlier novels, The Importance of Being Seven is often humorous, often philosophical, and at times a tad highbrow.

Briefly, Bertie gets a new therapist, has an adventure with his little brother Ulysses, misplaces his mother, and bonds with his father. Ulysses has a unique response to his mother. The newlywed Mathew and Elspeth start their family in a surprising way. In Bruce’s few appearances in the book, he manages to show his true colors and to cause poor Mathew significant distress. Antonia asks Domenica and Angus to go to Italy, with the intention of making a play for Angus. Cyrus is a minor hero. Pat returns. Big Lou continues to offer support to the group.

Bertie lovers will enjoy The Importance of Being Seven because Bertie finally has some minor triumphs. I found the novel a worthy installment in the series. I thought a few parts were overly intellectual, and I would have liked to read more about Big Lou and Pat. But, there were sections where I was laughing out loud. I appreciated some of the fun plot twists. I enjoyed how McCall Smith is able to say something profound about the smallest of things, like choosing a chocolate bar. When I read these books, I have the feeling that everything will come out alright in the end in my life.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Change (Quote)

Most of us, if pressed, are made uneasy by change. We recognize its importance in our lives and there are occasions when we persuade ourselves that it is for the best – which, of course, it often is – but at heart we are concerned that, if chance comes, it will bring with it regret.
Alexander McCall Smith in The Importance of Being Seven

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Journey in the Dark (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Poverty. Wealth. Family. Success. War. Prejudice. Eddies. A Deathbed Request.
You have been lucky, Sam, to have so much to lose.
Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1944. I will be completely honest, I had a hard time getting into the novel and continuing to read it. To the novel's credit, it has a number of very positive things going for it. Flavin uses an interesting style to construct the story. While the chapters follow each other chronologically, the narration weaves back and forth in time within each chapter, usually opening with a major event and then filling in the backstory. Flavin also describes interesting historical events, such as the expansion of the telegraph and railroads, labor strikes, burlesque, and two world wars.

Briefly, Journey in the Dark follows the life of Sam Braden, who was born in Wyattville, named after the wealthy Wyatt family. His ineffective father was the sheriff and his mother, the chief breadwinner of the family, was a seamstress. Early on in the story, Sam reminisces about the first time he realized that he was poor. After Sam’s mother passes away, he drops out of school and goes to work in a store, to help support his family. When he decides he wants a better life, he first teaches himself to use the telegraph and becomes a telegraph operator for the emerging railroad. Next, he becomes a paper salesman. Eventually, he becomes a relatively wealthy businessman, always taking care of his family. But, even at the end of the book, he never escapes the shadow of the Wyatt family.

Journey in the Dark is a lovely old novel. It is more of a “sit on a bench and look at the painting in the museum” type of book, rather than a “can’t put it down” book. On an amusing note, the copy I read was from our library system’s storage. Several pages, containing a romantic encounter between Sam and a black neighbor, were neatly cut out. I’m sure those pages were scandalous when the book first came out. I respect Flavin for having dared to take on a number of controversial topics in the novel.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Inn at Rose Harbor (Romance Novel)

Love. Peace. Death. Forgiveness. Healing the Past. Beginning a New Life. 

The Inn at Rose Harbor is the first book in Debbie Macomber’s new series, which is set at a bed and breakfast run by Jo Marie Rose. While the series takes place in Cedar Cove, the scene of her twelve book Cedar Cove series, new readers like me will feel comfortable reading it without knowing the backstories. The book, like most of Macomber’s others, is a bit corny and in some ways innocent, but it still has a way of touching a person’s heart. The book has a faint supernatural element to it, making it a bit more multidimensional.

Briefly, after the death of her new husband, Jo Marie Rose leaves her life in Seattle and opens up a bed and breakfast. Her first guest is Joshua Weaver, who has come to make peace with his dying step-father, who emotionally abused him as a child. Josh becomes reacquainted with Michelle, the “fat girl” from his school days who had a crush on him. Jo Marie’s second guest is Abby Kincaid, who has come to Cedar Cove to attend her brother’s wedding. While she grew up in Cedar Cove, she has avoided coming back because fifteen years earlier her best friend died in a tragic car accident in which Abby was driving.

I love new beginnings. Reading about Jo Marie setting up her B&B and becoming familiar with Cedar Cove, stirs up hope in the future within me. The Inn at Rose Harbor isn’t anywhere near Pulitzer Prize quality. I don’t care. I admire Macomber’s ability to reach out to a huge audience. She connects us with our humanness. While I am not a fan of romance, I enjoyed Macomber’s Blossom Street series, and this new series has gotten off to a good start.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Caliban’s War (SF Novel)

Political Games. Monsters. Traitors. Cascades. Children. Fear. Protomolecules. 

Caliban’s War is worse than a bag of chocolates or a box of crackers; I really, really tried to put it down. It just has too many elements that are addictive to my science fiction loving brain: plenty of action, quirky characters, camaraderie, bad guys, space stuff, a bit of interesting science, a splash of humor, and a dash of irreverent cuss words. Caliban’s War is a direct sequel to Leviathan Wakes and is the second book in James S.A. Corey’s —aka Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck— The Expanse Series. It is definitely not a standalone novel.

Briefly, Bobbie, a Martian Marine, is the only survivor after her comrades and some UN Soldiers are slaughtered by a monster on the surface of Ganymede. After chasing pirates for the OPA for a year, Holden and company –Naomi, Alex, and Amos–are sent to find out why Mars and Earth have suddenly gone to war over Ganymede. Prax, a botanist specializing in soybeans, has his life’s work wiped out in moments by the war and then finds out his four-year-old daughter has been kidnapped. Avasarala, a foul mouth, sari wearing, power wielding, politician on Earth, tries to keep the solar system safe for her grandchildren. Slowly, they come together to uncover the truth about the monsters and to try to find Prax’s daughter.

I’m not ready to label Caliban’s War “great science fiction”, because it has its flaws. Especially near the beginning, I felt that some of the plot was recycled from Leviathan Wakes. There is a certain flatness to the “bad guys” and a bit too much “giving people what they have coming to them.” While some of the characters were a bit clichéd at times, I enjoyed them. I am grateful for the strong female characters. I had fun watching the collaboration between the forthright Bobbie and the political gaming Avasarala. I recognized and learned from the politics. In several instances, individuals and governments in the story would rather further their own political agendas than deal with the real problem, the possibility that the protomolecule might wipe out humankind. I was touched by the way the novel looks at how individuals deal with traumatic events. Oh, must I wait until next year before the third book in the series comes out?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

In This Our Life (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Happiness. Freedom. Suicides. Generations. Love. Justice. Racism. Social Reform. Family. 

In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow won the 1942 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel and was made into a film the same year. It is a slow moving, character driven novel. At times it is poignant. Many of the themes are timeless. Chapters focus on different characters in the story, helping to keep the novel fresh and interesting.

In the beginning of the story we meet Asa, who has had a pitiable life. He is the father of two grown daughters and a grown son, and the husband of Lavinia, whom he doesn’t like let alone love. Lavinia has been an invalid for most of their marriage, and her wealthy uncle, William, has helped them to survive financially. Roy, the older daughter, has been married to Peter for three years. Stanley, the younger daughter, is going to be married to Craig, a social reformer, in a few days. But, everyone can feel that something is wrong. That something becomes clear when Stanley and Peter run off together. Because Stanley has been the charmer most of her life, people don’t seem to hold the indiscretion against her. Roy, who has always been the strong one, puts on a strong front, but in time she finds herself comforting Craig. When Stanley’s marriage to Peter takes a tragic turn, she returns home and manages to inflict more hurt on innocent people. Craig’s ideals are put to the test. Asa finds courage.

At first I found the story incredible boring. Eventually, I found it comforting and touching because of how it speaks about life. I found it interesting because of the way it deals with racism in the context of the late 1930’s. I also found myself pondering my own life.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Leviathan Wakes (SF Novel)

Asteroids. Stealth Technology. Finding the Truth. Conspiracies. Detectives. Wars. Experiments. Governments. Corporations. Rebel Organizations. Aliens. Politics. 

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey —Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck— is what I call a “good read.” It has likeable characters, good world-building, plenty of action, and a storyline with interesting twists and turns. The book has the feel of a science fiction/detective story hybrid. Leviathan Wakes was nominated for the 2012 Locus SF and Hugo Awards.

The story takes place in a world where people have colonized at least as far as the Asteroid Belt. Briefly, in response to a distress call, Holden, second in command of an ice-hauler, takes a team to investigate a disabled ship. While away, their hauler is attacked and its crew killed. Holden finds evidence that the Mars Navy may be to blame. After a Mars ship picks up Holden and his team, the rescuing ship is attacked and most of its crew killed. Holden and his team manage to escape and find themselves befriended by Fred, a former war-hero who is now part of the Outer Planet Alliance, a rebel group. Holden’s various disclosures of information manage to inflame emotions in a solar system already on the brink of war. Holden and his team, haunted by the deaths of their colleagues, try to get to the bottom of the attacks on their ice-hauler and the Mars ship. Meanwhile, Miller, a detective on Ceres, is asked to kidnap Julie, the daughter of a wealthy family, and send her back to her parents. But, as he investigates the case, he suspects that it has more far-reaching implications than just a dysfunctional family. He becomes obsessed with Julie. Even after he is taken off the case and fired, he continues to search for her. Holden’s team and Miller cross paths and for a time join forces. The book ends on a satisfying note, while making us want to know what happens next.

For me, Leviathan Wakes was enjoyable because of the good storytelling. Some of the little details popped out, making me feel like I was watching a movie. Holden and his team is the group that we all wish we belonged to. Miller’s down on his luck detective personality adds to the strong human element. Because I did not read very many reviews ahead of time, the twist in the story caught me by complete surprise; I thought this was the story about the incidents leading up to a huge, multiple book, war. While I have seen elements of the story in other novels, the combination is still fresh and interesting. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Now in November (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Debt. Drought. Death. Farming. Faith. 

Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson received the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1935. I would imagine that this book has spent a long time little read, relegated mainly to English classes. (Scenes from the Bookworld in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next Series come to mind.) Our local librarians loving found me a copy to read. Yet, the slim novel is especially relevant right now. It describes people who live day to day with the anxiety of possibly losing their homes. It describes an ever-growing drought, which many of us in the United States can relate to this year. It describes faith, love of nature, and coming of age, experiences that are timeless.

Briefly, the story is told by Marget, who in the beginning of the story is 14. She moves with her two sisters and her parents to a farm, which she soon discovers is mortgaged. They have lost almost everything they have owned and the farm is seen as their last chance. Her father’s every waking moment is shaped by his fear of losing the farm. Marget and her younger sister, Merle, see the beauty in the farm and in the land. Her older sister, Kerrin, is described in terms of her dark moods. The second part of the story takes place ten years after they move to the farm, during the drought year. The family has a new hired man, Grant, who affects the sisters in different ways. Despite taking a job as a teacher, Kerrin’s moods grow even darker. A tragic event leaves the family forever changed.

I enjoyed Johnson’s writing, especially her descriptions of nature and her gentle, introspective narrative. This helps her describe devastating events in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the reader. Perhaps because both of my parents grew up on farms, I felt especially connected to the characters in the story. While some might consider the book depressing, it is also haunting and beautiful.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Islanders (SF/Fantasy Novel)

Islands. Artists. Winds. Wars. Lovers. A Murder. Social Reformers. Tunnels. Theater. Deadly Insects. Writers. Traces. Glass Panes. Visual and Temporal Distortions. 

The Islanders by Christopher Priest reminds me why I keep bothering to read science fiction. This novel is fresh and imaginative, defying an easy categorization. Is it a fantasy, mystery, science fiction, or regular fiction? It takes place in another world, yet has things like gap years (British) and cell phones. Many of the chapters are part of some overarching plotline, but some are not. A number of the plotlines interweave. Most chapters are written in the third person, but some are written in the first person. Some chapters take place in the past, others in the present or possibly future. It is easy to see why The Islanders won the 2011 British Science Fiction Association and 2012 Campbell Awards.

Briefly, the novel is set up as a gazetteer of the islands that circle the world. The chapters appear alphabetically by island name. Most chapters describe the geography and other things that a tourist might need to know. Most chapters also include some part of a story. The result is that storylines are told geographically rather than chronologically, like most novels.

I am so, so glad that I read The Islanders. It mentally challenged me. It made me laugh. It made me think about life differently. Some of the passages were so beautiful, I sighed. One chapter was so horrifying that I had to get up and distract myself to make the images leave my mind. I am sure that I missed some of things going on, and I hope to reread the novel some time in the future.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Time Travelers (Classic SF Novels)

Time Traveling. Cold War. Space Exploration. Aliens. Advanced Technology. Traders. Artifacts. 

Time Travelers by Andre Norton is a fun romp into classic science fiction. This omnibus consists of two relatively short novels -- The Time Traders copyrighted 1958 and Galactic Derelict copyrighted 1959 -- which share the same set of characters. The book has the feel of a 1960’s television program and reminds me a bit of the more recent Stargate series. Both books have a bit of the theme of the misfit finding his niche.

Briefly, in the first book we meet Ross, a misunderstood criminal who chooses to “volunteer” for an undisclosed project rather than submit to the more ominous sounding "rehabilitation." Ross soon discovers that the project involves traveling into the past to discover how the Russians are suddenly acquiring advanced technology. This leads him to a direct encounter with aliens. In the second book we meet Travis, an Apache who quit school because of racial prejudice. While in the desert, he accidentally stumbles on the latest time traveling project. His archeological background makes him a perfect candidate for time travel. But, the project ends up taking him and the team to distant planets.

The book isn’t particularly complex by modern standards, but it is entertaining. I could almost see the 1960’s special effects as I read the stories. Yet, the books left me pondering about the rise and fall of civilizations. As an aside, Norton was prophetic when she wrote in the book, in the late 1950’s, that the government stopped manned exploration of space after landing on the moon. Science fiction lovers like me owe a debt of gratitude to Andre Norton and her fellow writers who blazed a trail for modern science fiction

Thursday, July 26, 2012

West of Eden (SF Novel)

Warm Blooded Animals. Cold Blooded Animals. Revenge. Genetic Engineering. Longer Winters. Dissenters. 

Originally published in the 1980’s, West of Eden by Harry Harrison is an alternative pre-history novel. It explores the question of what would have happened if the major cold-blooded animals had not been wiped out by an asteroid and had continued to evolve.

Briefly, the ice-age is approaching. The cities of the Yilané, a reptilian species, are created from biological materials which cannot withstand the growing cold. The Yilané must begin to move to warmer climates. While building a city in a new location, they encounter the Tanu, basically early humans. Both sides commit massacres and seek revenge. Early on in the story a young Tanu, Kerrick, is taken captive. He is taught the Yilané’s language and to some extent is incorporated into their culture. The person responsible for overseeing the construction of the new city uses him for her own political gain. Years later when he finally escapes, he is confused about his identity and loyalties. He finally joins with his own people to prevent their total obliteration.

I really enjoyed this novel. Harry Harrison does a nice job of world building. He describes both species well. The biological engineering twists to the Yilané environment are interesting, though some border on fantasy rather than science fiction. Kerrick is a relatable character. The story has lost little relevancy in the nearly thirty years since it was first published.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Alien Heat (SF Novel)

Time-travel. Aliens. Menageries. Virtue. Love.

An Alien Heat by Michael Moorcock is a short, quirky novel that was written in the early 1970’s. The novel is set in the distant future. Bored earth inhabitants continuously create and recreate their surroundings and bodies in ways that amuse them. Often they will base their creations on what they know —however accurate or inaccurate—of different historical periods. Many of the inhabitants also have menageries filled with people from different time periods, animals, and aliens.

At yet another boring party, an alien announces that the Universe is near the end of time. Instead of paying attention to his warning, the inhabitants put the alien into a menagerie. Also at the party is a woman from 1896. Jherek is determined to experience love with her. First, he acquires her from someone else’s menagerie. He then attempts to win her love. When she suddenly disappears, he pursues her back to her own time period.

I found the novel mildly amusing and a tiny bit thought provoking. When I first began the novel, I was bored by the bored characters. But I slowly found Jherek endearing in his own misguided way. This is the first book in The Dancers at the End of Time series and the novel left me curious about the other books.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Crucible of Gold (Fantasy Novel)

Dragons. Ambassadors. Gold. Drunken Sailors. South America. Slavery. Inca. Eggs. Ship Wrecks. Napoleon. Old Friends. Allies. 

Released earlier this year, Crucible of Gold is the seventh book in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, which is built on the premise that there had been dragons during the Napoleonic Wars.  In previous novels, Novak has taken us to Europe, Australia, China, and Africa. In Crucible of Gold, she takes us to South America. This is definitely a series where the reader needs to start from the beginning and read the books in order.

Briefly, Hammond gives Lawrence back his commission so that he and Temeraire can go to South America to negotiate with the Tswana, who have become allies with Napoleon. Lawrence and Temeraire are joined with Kulingile and the temperamental Iskierka. The trip to South America brings various disasters. Once there, the group of dragons and humans find an Inca population decimated by disease and coveted by their dragons. South America brings more challenges.

Like the previous books in the series, Crucible of Gold is appealing because of its world building and character development. Both humans and dragons feel like old friends. I enjoy catching up on their lives and seeing them mature and grow. I admire Novik’s ability to create a convincing alternative world. Perhaps because I am not a great history buff, I felt ho hum about the overarching storyline; the ending felt anticlimactic to me. Still, I look forward to the next book in the series.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-time (Novel)

Dogs. Mysteries. Prime Numbers. Red Cars. The Truth. Yellow Food. Math. Trains. Trust. Sherlock Holmes. Rhetorical Questions. Strangers. Family. 

A student I have been tutoring in English introduced me to The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. Her son said that it was sold in Germany as a good book for people learning English. What a delightful discovery! The novel is funny and touching. It is narrated by a fifteen-year-old autistic (Asperger’s Syndrome ?) boy, who goes on numerous digressions. In the end, it is also a book about parents, who though flawed at times, do the best they can. This British novel won the 2003 Whitbread book of the Year.

Briefly, Christopher lives alone with his father. One day Christopher discovers his neighbor’s dog impaled with a garden fork and decides to emulate his hero Sherlock Holmes in order to find the murderer. As he does his investigation, he discovers that there is a bigger mystery, one involving his family.

I loved this book and plan to read more by Haddon. It had me laughing aloud, as well as looking at the world in a different way. Christopher is a likeable character that I wanted to succeed. The ending troubled me a bit, but perhaps I am looking at it too much from a real-world perspective.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Late George Apley (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

It seems to me that, although I have tried, I have achieved surprisingly little compared with my own father and his father, for instance. I repeat that this negative result has not been for want of trying. The difficulty seems to have been that something has always stepped in the way to prevent me. I have always been faced from childhood by obligations of convention, and all of these conventions have been made by others, formed from the fabric of the past. In some way these have stepped in between me and life. I had to realize that they were designed to do just that.
The above quote summarizes The Late George Apley by John P. Marquand. The novel won the 1938 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel and was later made into a movie. The novel describes the life of George Apley, an upper class Bostonian, who was born in 1866. The storyline begins with some background about his ancestors and ends with his death. The novel is written as a series of manuscripts, almost all letters, with the narration of a long-time friend further describing the different events. The novel touches on the changing of the generations: George’s father, George, George’s son John, and John Jr. It does a nice job of describing a man who is committed to fulfilling his social obligations.

While the novel isn’t particularly exciting and doesn’t explore the depths of the different characters, it is an enjoyable story. I felt empathy for George. While the humor was satirical, I was able to understand most of it. This is a nice book to read on a day that you just want to sit back and relax.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Memory of Blood (Mystery Novel)

Punch and Judy. Madame Blavatsky. Memoirs. Madame Tussaud. A Play. Role Models. The Grand Guignol. Automaton.

The Peculiar Crime Unit novels by Christopher Fowler always make me smile. The recently released, The Memory of Blood is no exception. While fans will enjoy the return of Bryant and May, even those new to the series can enjoy the story. It is a delightful who-done-it with a splash of the arcane. Alas, this particular story has no underground London scenes or corrupting of youth.

Briefly, the major plotline involves people associated with a mystery play. During a cast party, someone is murdered. The chief suspect is the puppet Punch. More deaths follow. Again, the Peculiar Crime Unit’s fate rides on the success of the case. The minor plotline involves the death of Bryant’s editor. Is it natural causes, a local delinquent, or something more sinister? Bryant is definitely center stage for most of the novel. Janice Longbright shows why she is the heart of the PCU. Land faces the truth about his relationship with his wife. Alas, Crisppin make only a token appearance. By the end of the novel, the PCU begins to discover why Oscar has been trying to shut them down.

I love this series. It is a perfect match to my personality. I enjoy all of Bryant’s odd meanderings. The novel has a nice touch of heart. Like the earlier novels, I learned something new.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Dance with Dragons (Fantasy Novel)

The Game of Thrones. Hostages. Sacrifices. Suitors. Princes. Diseases. Magic. New Alliances. 

Let me say two things upfront. A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin is big, over a thousand pages in the hardback edition. Second, I am not the only person who found it tremendously rewarding to read. It is the winner of the 2012 Locus Fantasy award and is nominated for the 2012 Hugo and British Fantasy Society awards. The novel is the fifth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series.

The first part of A Dance with Dragons takes place directly after A Storm of Swords (the third book in the series), continuing storylines not fully furthered in A Feast for Crows (the fourth book in the series): Jon Snow, Tywin, Daenerys, Bran Stark. There are a few times when an event from Book 4 is described from a different point of view in A Dance with Dragons. The second part of the novel continues storylines from both books. One thing that makes the novel more challenging –many will say more interesting– is that chapters are often titled by a description of the character rather than by a proper name. Keeping all the storylines straight is an interesting challenge.

Here are some brief highlights. Winter has almost arrived. People continue to vie for control of the Seven Kingdoms. We see people we thought were dead. We learn much more about the mysterious Varys. Tyrion continues to suffer indignities and meet interesting people. Daenerys has multiple men who want to marry her, and in order to protect her people she makes a questionable decision. Jon Snow, as Commander of the Night Watch, finds that none of his decisions makes anyone particularly happy with him. Bran Stark finally flies. Of course, the book ends with us wanting to know what happens next.

I find this series amazing. It has multiple storylines being woven in and out. It keeps my attention; many of the chapters end with some unexpected twist. It has wonderful characters. The descriptions are so vivid that I feel like I am living in the books. A Dance with Dragons is definitely Hugo worthy.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself (Self Help Book)

Law of Attraction. How the Brain Works. Habitual Thinking. Change.

The recently released, Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza does a nice job of combining the Law of Attraction with research about the brain. The book is relatively easy to read and immediately practical. It describes why, despite our best intentions, we stay stuck in self-defeating ways of thinking and behaving. It describes how we identify our “self” from a neurological point of view. It then describes how we can create a new “self.”

I am a great fan of Joe Dispenza. He was one of my favorite people in What the Bleep. I loved Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind even though at times I felt overwhelmed by the amount of detail. Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself has just the right amount of science for me. Right from the very beginning, the way the book is written caused me to start contemplating the ideas, even when I was engaged in my daily activities. Although Dispenza never directly refers to Eastern Philosophy, many of the ideas in the book echo Tai Chi and Zen mindfulness principles. This book makes sense to me. It is a wonderful book for people who feel stuck in their lives and want to change.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Feast for Crows (Fantasy Novel)

A Feast for Crows is the fourth book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice Series. It was nominated for the 2006 Hugo, Locus Fantasy and British Fantasy Society Awards.

Briefly, A Feast for Crows takes up immediately after A Storm of Swords ends. While the earlier novels focused on the Starks, this one focuses on Cersei and Jaime Lannister. Brienne, Samwell, and Arya have substantial storylines. Characters from the Iron Islands and from Dorne become more significant. A reoccurring theme is prophecy. Cersei is haunted by a prophesy that a fortuneteller gave her as a teenager. Of course, there is the larger prophesy of the coming of the dragons. Noticeably absent are storylines involving Tyrion, Bran and Daenerys. The next book in the series will focus more on their storylines.

A Feast for Crows is shorter than some of the books in the series. It contains some of my favorite characters, and I enjoyed learning more about Cersei. On the other hand, like the earlier books in the series, it is very violent. I also had a hard time feeling invested in the new storylines.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Walking the Clouds (SF Anthology)

 Indigenous Science Fiction

The recently released, Walking the Clouds edited by Grace L. Dillon is an anthology of Indigenous science fiction. Some of the selections are short stories but most are excerpts from novels or novellas. The book has the feel of an academic book, with long, scholarly introductions to the selections. It is well written, well organized and whetted my appetite to read the longer works. I felt I learned a bit more about Indigenous points of view of reality. One short story, which dealt with non-linear time, caused me to do some heavy pondering. Emotionally, the book left me a bit cold. When I originally brought the book home from the library, I had expected to sit back and immerse myself in experiences. I could do that with some of the short stories, but not most of the excerpts. All in all, while the book might not have mass appeal, it will be valuable to readers who want to broaden their understanding of science fiction.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

RIP Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury passed away today at the age of 91. He is one of my heroes. I feel fortunate that I was able to see him speak in Illinois years ago. May he inspire many, many more generations of SF writers and readers.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The English Major (Novel)

The world is a wobbly place and so is my mind.
States. Birds. Road Trip. English Majors. Deaths. Divorce. Butts. Cell Phones. Puzzle Pieces. Transitions. 

The English Major by Jim Harrison won the 2008 New York Times Notable Book Award. It belongs to the “now what do I do with my life” genre of novels. The book is light, semi-rambling, humorous, and at times poignant and profound. Cliff, the main character and narrator, is incredibly likable. The only thing irritating about the novel, at least from a female point of view, is his semi-adolescent thoughts about sex.

Briefly, after Cliff’s wife divorces him, his dog dies, and the land he has been farming for the past 25 years is sold, Cliff goes on a road trip that is inspired by a childhood puzzle of the United States. Early in the trip, Cliff meets up with Marybelle, who was a student of his before he started farming. They travel together. At the beginning, Marybelle is the fulfillment of one of Cliff’s fantasies. After a time, she becomes an irritant and a hindrance to his need to experience nature and ponder his life. Cliff believes that one of his purposes in life is to rename the 50 states and their state birds. Cliff’s adult, gay son gives him advice on what to do with his life. Cliff’s ex-wife and his alcoholic doctor friend also interfere. By the end of the story, Cliff is ready to start the next phase of his life.

After reading so much lop-off-their-heads fantasy, The English Major was refreshing. It reminds me what it is like to be human: to love, lose, and try to love again.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Storm of Swords (Fantasy Novel)

Kings. Mothers. Eunuchs. Betrayals. Long Awaited Revenge. Weddings. Leeches. Unexpected Allies. Magic.

 A Storm of Swords is the third book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and the 2001 winner of the Locus Fantasy Award. The novel is long and epic. It continues the major story lines from A Clash of Kings and A Game of Thrones. A Storm of Swords has unexpected twists and turns. It resolves some of the nagging mysteries from the earlier novels. It is beyond a doubt violent, yet at the same time Martin creates empathy for characters that are not so easy to care about. He shows characters growing up and evolving.

Very, very briefly, lots of people die. Some people rise to the occasion and do heroic and honorable acts.

After finishing A Storm of Swords, I feel A Song of Ice and Fire is worthy of the Hugo Award for a series, which to the best of my knowledge has only been given out once, for the Foundation Trilogy. I am awed by Martin’s ability to weave the storylines and draw me into the story. At the same time, I almost put down the novel and gave up on the series because it is so long and so overwhelming. As I often do, I found myself living in the story, and I do not want to live in such a tumultuous world. Yet, as I type, the next book in the series is coming my way.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Clash of Kings (Fantasy Novel)

Kings. Sibling Rivalry. War. Alliances. Magic.

A Clash of Kings is the second book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and the 1999 winner of the Locus Fantasy Award. It is a direct continuation of The Game of Thrones, advancing the major storylines and adding a couple new ones.

Briefly, after the death of Robert, it seems like everyone is declaring himself a king or a prince. Former allies rise up against one another. Magic is becoming more prevalent in the Seven Kingdoms. The Stark children continue to grow up. Daenerys continues to look for a way to get back home.

Reading the series feels a bit like running a marathon. While I still love the series, the initial excitement is over. I certainly can’t keep the pace for the next almost three thousand pages. Fortunately, Martin writes chapters that have their own internal cadence, supplying small resolutions and creating more questions.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Early Del Rey (SF Book)

Mars. Dog People. Ape People. Wars. Brownies. Rockets. Rivals. Elves. Skulls. Plenum. Loops. Soldiers. Memories. Consciousness. Robots. Plagues. Apocalypse. Mutations. Teleportation. Time Travel. 

Early Del Rey by Lester Del Rey is an anthology of 24 short stories that have not be published in other books. The stories were originally published in pulp, science fiction magazines. Woven throughout the book is a description of Del Rey’s career from the time he sold his first story in 1938 to the time he became a full-time writer in 1950.

These are not Del Rey’s best works. There is something unrewarding about finishing a short story only to be told on the next page what was wrong with it. Yet, I found the book worthwhile for a number of reasons. It gave me a taste of the Golden Age of Science Fiction.  I was able to see how WWII affected the science fiction community. I learned more about the influence of John Campbell, one of the Godparents of modern science fiction. Lastly, most of the stories were actually enjoyable.

While I won’t recommend Early Del Rey, diehard science fiction fans might enjoy it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Game of Thrones (Fantasy Novel)

Kings. Families. Betrayal. Oaths. Loyalty. Honor. Dragons. Direwolves.

A Game of Thrones is the first novel in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. The novel won the 1997 Locus Fantasy Award and recently has been made into a TV series. My biggest complaint about the book was that I had a problem putting it down and it seriously interfered with my sleep. Each chapter had me wanting more. I quickly had a number of favorite characters with whom I was emotionally invested. The book teased with hints of the supernatural while still describing a relatively normal world for most of the novel. By the end of the book, I had some closure but so many major storylines were unresolved –some barely begun– that I was hungry for more. The book is definitely a grown-up fantasy, containing sex and violence.

The structure of the book reminds me of a multi-stranded rope that is slowly unraveling. From the beginning, the first strand that comes off from the rope is the storyline involving the son and daughter of the murdered king. The book has numerous storylines involving characters from the House of Stark, who are supporters of the current king, Robert: Eddard, Lord of Winterfell; Catelyn, Eddard’s wife; Sansa, their oldest daughter; Arya, their tomboy daughter; Bran, a son; Jon, a bastard of Eddard. There is one strand with a character from the House of Lannester, Robert’s dwarf brother-in-law Tyrion. Because most of the characters were together in some of the beginning chapters, the storylines are relatively easy to keep track of.

I have not been a fan of fantasy novels lately; I had read too many knight and dragon stories. I would not have started this one if the last book in the series, A Dance of Dragons, were not a nominee for this year’s Hugo Award. I was delightfully surprised. The plot feels fresh to me. I am looking forward to the next books.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lamb in His Bosom (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

She was like to lose her mind, for she kept thinking that breaths were like threads on a mighty loom, drawn tight, woven among one another, broken singly as each life reaches its frayed or short-ending. She could hear the treadle of the loom knocking in her ears—but that was her heartbeat…
Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller won the 1934 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. In the novel Miller tells the story of Cean and her family, who live in the South around the time of the Civil War. Cean and her husband Lonzo produce fourteen children, a number of whom die before Cean. Her brothers and parents have their own triumphs, tragedies and mysteries.

I easily became emotionally involved in the book. The characters are relatable. The plot is a little slow by today’s standards. I was bothered by the mystery of Lias, Cean’s brother; the structure was so unlike the rest of the book. All-in-all this was a pleasant book.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detectives (Mystery Novel)

Buildings. Bricks. Bullies. Brothers. Orphans. Cars. Idols. Nails.

I confess, occasionally when I face a sticky interpersonal situation I ask myself, “What would Mma Ramotswe do?” Mma Ramotswe and the rest of the gang are back in The Limpopo Academy of Private Detectives, the thirteenth book in Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series. As usual, my complaint is that the book ended too soon.

Briefly, Mma Ramotswe meets her idol, Clovis Andersen, whose book is responsible for her becoming a private detective and helping hundreds of people. He even helps her solve a case that affects the orphanage. Fanwell, who was the unnamed mechanic in the earlier novels, is falsely accused of a crime. Mma Makutsi and her husband build their first home, but something suspicious is going on.

Alexander McCall Smith’s writing has a lot of heart. The novels offer us islands of compassion and caring in a world that is too often impersonal and sometimes downright nasty. As a fan, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detectives lived up to all my expectations.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Immortal (SF Novel)

Immortality. Blood. Medicine. Power. The Price of Longevity. Doctors vs. Healers.

The Immortals by James Gunn is composed of a series of short stories. Versions of some of the stories were published in the mid 1950’s. Many of the stories have since been revised and new stories have been added. The final book was published in 2004. With the recent attention to healthcare, the story continues to be relevant.

The overarching plot spans over 150 years. In the first story, a man named Cartwright donates blood in order to earn some extra money. The person who receives the blood miraculously has his symptoms reversed and appears decades younger. But the effects only last a little over 30 days. Throughout the rest of the overarching story, various people attempt to find Cartwright and his children in order to use their blood for immortality. People also attempt to create an elixir that simulates the effects of the blood. As the story progresses, medicine takes on a larger and more grandiose position in society. Towards the end of the story, society has become a dystopia, where people spend over 52% of their income on medicine and defaulters are used as spare parts to keep the rich alive. One of the major characters in the stories is Doctor Pearce, who first realizes the properties of Cartwright’s blood.

This is the first book that I remember reading by Gunn. I am impressed by his writing and the way he describes scenes. The short story format helps give the plot a lively pace. Pearce gives us someone to feel sympathy toward. The last short story does a nice job of wrapping up the plot.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Store (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Unsettling. That is my reaction to reading The Store by T.S. Stribling. The novel is set in the South around 1884, the time of President Cleveland’s election. The story won the Pulitzer Prize for the novel in 1932. I am now reading it in 2012, a time in which stories about Trayvon Martin being shot fill the news. I am seeing the novel through the lenses of race relations. I wonder whether the readers in 1932 had the same reaction.

The Store is one of the less popular Pulitzer winning novels. I found it hard to get into. In all fairness, it is the second book in a trilogy and I did not read the first book. For me the book was interesting enough, but I was not particularly emotionally invested. Colonel Miltiades Vaiden, the main character, is flawed but has some admirable qualities. When he works at the store, he treats the blacks fairly. When a young woman—the daughter of a fallen comrade from the Civil War— hero-worships him, he has some degree of self-awareness. Yet, in the beginning of the book he is hell-bent on seeking revenge on the man who cheated his family out of the profits from five bales of cotton twenty-five years ago. My favorite characters is Gracie, a former slave of the Vaiden family and mistress of the Colonel’s nemesis. I felt for Gracie’s attempts to make a better life for herself and for her son at a time that blacks had few rights. Her son Toussaint, “a white negro,” is one of the tragic characters of the novel. There is a thin ribbon of Occult/Spirituality woven through the story. The postmaster is known to chat with the dead. The Colonel’s nephew spends more time studying the Occult than his college courses. For me the topic was given too much weight at the end and not enough in the rest of the book.

The book is worthwhile, but it is not high on the list of books that I would recommend. Right now, I think that it would be a good book for a discussion about race.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Half Finished Heaven (Poetry)

Two truths approach each other. One comes from inside, the other from outside, And where they meet we have a chance to catch sight of ourselves.
Tomas Tranströmer was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature. Since then, I have spent over half a year on our library system’s waiting list for The Half-Finished Heaven, translated by Robert Bly. I am glad I waited. Tranströmer has a magical way of combining images and using metaphor. I read each poem at least twice, allowing it to slowly appear in my mind’s eye. Some were merely pleasant. Others wowed me. Most made me think.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Good Earth (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Out of the land we came and into it we must go — and if you will hold your land you can live… 
The Good Earth by Pearl Buck won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel and was made into a movie in 1937. It was even an Oprah Book Club selection. There is no doubt that this is a time-tested classic. It is well-written. It fascinates the reader with its glimpse of China at the beginning of the last century. At times, it speaks to the heart. At times, it repulses, especially when it shows the treatment of women in China.

Briefly, the novel follows the life of Wang Lung and his family from his wedding day to shortly before his death. His relationship with the earth threads its way through the plot. Some years the earth yields a bountiful crop. Other years there are deadly famines. But, until the very end, Wang Lung finds the earth a source of goodness.

The night after I finished reading The Good Earth, I actually dreamt about it, the story had that much power over me. Despite being set in China, the story transcends cultures. I am well acquainted with the love of American farmers for the land. As with a number of the early Pulitzer Prize winning novels, The Good Earth also describes what happens to the children of a self-made man. The novel is the first in a trilogy, which I hope to finish at a later time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lest Darkness Fall (Classic SF Novel)

Brandy. Sorcery. Accounting Systems. Copper Tubing. Printing Press. Reporters. Clock. Telegraph. Crossbow. Gunpowder. Politics. 

Lest Darkness Fall by David Drake is an early example of alternative history science fiction. This classic first appeared as a short story in 1939 and was first published as a novel in 1941. The story is still amusing and enjoyable to read.

Briefly, a present day — late 1930’s — archeologist is struck by lightening and sent back to 6th century Rome. There he introduces some modern inventions. But, his ultimate goal is to prevent the coming of the Dark Ages. One of his biggest obstacles is the politics of the era. Some things never change.

The novel was well worth the time I spent reading it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Genesis (SF Novel)

Sapient Machines. Freedom. Knowledge. Artificial Intelligence Networks. World Guide. Alternative Histories. Galactic Brain. Post Human Earth.

Genesis by Poul Anderson won the 2001 John W. Campbell Memorial Award. On one hand, I am not sure that I liked the book. I couldn’t connect with the characters, and most of the time the plot felt disjointed. On the other hand, I keep thinking about the book even though I finished reading it two days ago.

Briefly, the book is composed of scenes that don’t seem to fit together until the end. The reader is introduced to Christian Brannock and Laurinda Ashcroft, both of whom eventually have their human consciousness uploaded into machine consciousness. Some of the scenes are about a clan-oriented culture in a time and place that are not clear to the reader. Still other scenes are about the artificial intelligences.

In some ways, I found the book appealing. Some of us science fiction fans dream of going to the stars, knowing that it is highly unlikely in our lifetimes. If I could upload myself into a star-going machine, I would probably go for it. I am also fascinated by the idea of a society where most people had their consciousness uploaded before they died. This has almost a religious feel to it. The book is definitely thought-provoking.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Years of Grace (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Love. Expectations. Men Who Love Married Women. Generations. Durable Satisfactions. Important Women.

Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes won the 1931 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. It has the feel of a more modern novel that is set in an earlier time.—At times, I was reminded a little bit of Debbie Macomber and Alexander McCall Smith. — It deals with the timeless ideas of expectations and love. The characters were interesting and easy to relate to. The book is not overly sentimental or dramatic. What I find fascinating is that, despite being told in the third person, the narration grows up as the characters age.

Briefly, the novel follows the life of Jane Ward from the time she is 14 until she is in her earlier 50s. We see her friends and family age. We see her falling in love with Andre, Stephen, and Jimmy. Finally, we see how her children respond to life in ways that are very different from her expectations.

When I finished the book, I felt like I was leaving friends that I had just met. The novel is a pleasant read.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Laughing Boy (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Laughing Boy won the 1930 Pulitzer Prize for the novel and was made into a movie in 1934. It is a story about love and the affect of the “Americans”—the whites—on the Native American culture.

Briefly, Laughing Boy is a carefree young Navajo and a talented silversmith. At a dance he falls in love with Slim Girl. His family warns him that she is a bad girl, but he still runs away with her. They are married and go to live in the white town where Slim Girl has been living. In the beginning, Slim Girl wants to gain power over Laughing Boy and use him. When she was young, she was taken away from her parents and forced to give up her Native American ways. She sees Laughing Boy as a means to regaining her power. Eventually, she comes to love him. She learns to weave and gradually takes part in the Navajo ceremonies that Laughing Boy so loves. But, he knows that Slim Girl has secrets. The end of the story is both tragic and beautiful.

I had a hard time getting into the story. I don’t know whether it was me or the book. Yet, I feel a bit haunted by the book, imaging what it must have been like to be a child ripped away from ones culture and never feeling like one fit in.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Forgotten Affairs of Youth (Novel)

Human life is a long film, which can be fully understood only if one looks at what went before. 
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth, released at the end of last year, is the eighth book in Alexander McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie Series. All the regular characters are back: Isabel, Jamie, Charlie, Grace, Cat, Eddie, Mr. Fox, and Professor Lettuce. I love this series where nothing much happens and yet everything happens. These novels are gentle and philosophical, reminding us of what it means to be a human being.

Briefly, in the major storyline, a fellow philosopher, from Australia, asks Isabel’s help in finding out about her birth parents. The book has numerous minor storylines. Grace receives an investment tip from a medium. When Eddie goes on a trip, a jean model takes his place at Cat’s store. Lettuce, with the help of his nephew, finally does something so outrageous that Jamie becomes angry. Isabel eats some poisonous produce. Charlie learns some interesting vocabulary. Isabel and Jamie’s relationship continues to evolve. Of course, Isabel is faces with large and small moral dilemmas.

 The Forgotten Affairs of Youth lived up to my highest expectations. I still am amazed how McCall Smith can draw me into a scene with just a few words. This novel and most of the others in the series are perfect for those times that a person needs to regroup and feel good about the world again.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Scarlet Sister Mary (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Scarlet Sins. Prayer Meetings. God. Children. Love Charms. Hell. Heart-love. Eye-love. Forgiveness. 

Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin won the 1929 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. This novel is especially noteworthy because it is the first Pulitzer Prize winner to have a main character who is African-American. The prize was awarded over the objections of some people who found the novel obscene because it dealt with the topic of sex outside of marriage.

Briefly, near the beginning of the book we meet Mary, who has been raised by her aunt and older cousin. She has a vision in which her sins are forgiven. She is baptized and accepted into the church, becoming Sister Mary. Unfortunately, she falls in love with July, a sinner. On the morning of her wedding day, her aunt notices that Mary is pregnant. Rather than having to wait for the birth of her child to be kicked out of church, she dances on her wedding night, resulting in her expulsion. Unex, for unexpected, is born seven months later. Soon, July leaves Mary for another woman. In order to get him back, Mary gets a love charm. While it does not help her with July, it does result in Mary having eight more children by various men. Eventually, she confronts her scarlet sins.

Mary comes across as a strong, hard working, good hearted woman. I think some people could consider the book somewhat racist. I don’t think that is what Peterkin intended. The book speaks to us about types of love. I cried when I read some of the last scenes in the book because I was so moved. I am glad the Pulitzer Prize committee chose this book.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Helliconia Spring (SF Novel)

Cycles. Climate Change. Forgotten Knowledge. Binary Stars. Hunting. Domestication. Slavery. Gender Roles. Ancestors and Descendants.

Helliconia Spring by Brain W. Aldiss won the 1982 BSFA and 1983 Campbell awards. It is the first book in the Helliconia Trilogy. Aldiss creates a memorable world. Not only does he populate it with interesting humans and non-humans, but he adds some twists. The first twist is that Helliconia has a traditional year that lasts over 400 days and a second type of year that lasts centuries. This creates dramatic climate changes on the planet. The second twist is that people from earth are watching the drama on the planet unfold. These twists give the reader a unique sense of time. The novel is mostly science fiction with some fantasy elements.

Briefly, the opening section of the novel describes the experiences of Yuli, who comes to live in Oldorando after his father is captured and enslaved by the phagors. Yuli goes on to become something of a folk hero. The majority of the book describes the experiences of Yuli’s descendant Little Yuli, his grandson Laintal Ay, and their contemporaries. For the most part, they live in a brutal, patriarchal society that looks at knowledge as a luxury. A handful of women try to create and maintain an academy and explore the history of their civilization. The changing climate brings changes to the society.

Helliconia Spring is my first book in the Worlds Without End Grand Master Challenge and the first book that I remember reading by Aldiss. He impressed me with the world that he created, and he made me think about the climate changes that are going on in our own world.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Death and Resurrection (Fantasy Novel)

Death. Uncles. Cadaver Dog. Hospice. Puppies. Body Switching. Martial Arts. Painting. Delog. Murder. Bear Woman. Magic. Hospice. 

The recently released Death and Resurrection by R. A. MacAvoy was an easy, enjoyable book to read. It is structured more as a series of novellas, rather than as one overarching plot line. A couple of the stories I would label supernatural mysteries. Some of the plots were a trifle cliché, but MacAvoy put her own spin on them. The characters are so darned likeable that it is hard for me to find fault with the book.

Briefly, the main character of the stories is Ewen Young, a martial artist and painter. He has a twin sister, Lynn, a therapist with whom he has a telepathic connection. Lynn’s husband runs a hospice. In the first story, the gambling debts of Ewen’s uncle lead to Ewen being shot in the heart and having a near death experience. In the second story, Ewen meets Susan, a veterinarian, and Rez, her cadaver finding dog. They search for Susan’s missing uncle, whose disappearance may or may not be connected to the grisly murders of holy men. In the third story, Jacob, a patient of Lynn’s, switches bodies with Ewen. In the last story, the remains of three children are found near the hospice.

This is the first book that I have read by MacAvoy, and I now plan to read more of her books.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning. 
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder won the 1928 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. This slim novel can easily be read in an evening. The novel engages the part of the brain that listens to poetry or spends time looking at a painting. It does not have the feel of a story where the reader wonders what will happen next.

Briefly, a bridge collapses in Lima, Peru in 1714 and the five people on it die. The novel looks at the lives of the people on the bridge and at the people associated with them. To a certain extent their lives are intertwined. The novel looks at the meaning of their deaths. It also looks at love in its many forms.

The novel was over so quickly that I didn’t have much time to think about it. I am left with feelings and memories of snippets of different scenes. While I don’t have a concrete definition of literature, I know that I would put this novel in that category. It was well worth a few hours of my time.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Arrowsmith (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Medicine. Scientific Research. Public Health. Bubonic Plague. Commercialism. Salesmanship. Success. Men of Measured Merriment. Politics. 

Arrowsmith, written by Sinclair Lewis, won the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. It was made into a film in 1931. I found the novel a nice change of pace from some of the previous Pulitzer winners that focused on domestic drama.

Briefly, Lewis describes Martin Arrowsmith’s journey into the world of medicine. The story opens with a young Martin working for a doctor. The storyline continues with Martin going to medical school, taking various jobs, becoming a minor hero, and fighting to do what he loves. Lewis shows how various people in Martin’s life support or undermine his love of research. Lewis also shows the politics and social aspects of medicine.

While Arrowsmith is set in an earlier time, a modern audience can easily relate to it. The novel speaks to the idea of doing something we love and to having a calling. In some ways the novel is a love story. Lewis shows Martin’s love for research, his love for various women and his admiration and fondness for various men. My guess is that many modern medical novelists were inspired by this story.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The War of the Worlds (Classic SF Novel)

Mars. Alien Invasion. Falling Stars. Cylinders. Tentacles. Heat Ray Guns.

H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds was published in 1898. The story continued to terrify audiences in its radio and 1953 and 2005 movie adaptations. It is science fiction with a touch of horror. It is the first story most of us think about when we hear “alien invasion.” 

Briefly, the novel has two storylines. The dominate storyline centers on the experiences of the narrator. A minor storyline centers on his brother, who escapes London. The story begins with flashes on Mars. It moves on to falling stars that turn out to be large cylinders. Layer by layer H.G. Wells makes the aliens more terrifying and the humans more helpless to stop them. Near the end of the story the narrator is trapped in a building for two weeks, where he ends up having direct contact with the aliens.

If I had known nothing about the plot, I would have had nightmares after I finished the book. I still found myself frightened. For anyone who has any interest in science fiction, this is a must read.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Invisible Man (Classic SF Novella)

It was worse than anything. Mrs. Hall, standing open-mouthed and horror-struck, shrieked at what she saw, and made for the door of the house. Every one began to move. They were prepared for scars, disfigurements, tangible horrors, but nothing!
The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells was first published in 1897. This classic story has been made into numerous movies and inspired even more. For me it has the feel of a short story. The plot isn’t very dynamic. The characters aren’t particularly sympathetic. What makes the story so fascinating is the way Wells slowly unwraps the main character: first, there is a mysterious man; then we find out he is invisible; slowly we discover his name; we learn how he came to be invisible; finally, we learn his fate.

This isn’t my favorite Wells novella, but I still found it enjoyable. Part of the reason for the story’s success is its ability to connect with our childhood fear of the bogeyman.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Back of the Napkin (Business Book)

Visual Thinking. Stick Figures. Business Problems. Graphs. Maps. 

While language is a necessary tool, it has its limitations. The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam describes a step-by-step, common sense approach to solving business problems by using visual images. This allows people to perceive a problem in a more comprehensive way and to use more of their brains. While at first the title of the book and the pictures might appear cute, this is an extremely practical, well-written book. Roam describes:
  • The process of visual thinking: look, see, imagine, and show 
  • The six ways we see: who and what, how many and how much, where, when, how, and why 
  • The five questions that open our mind’s eye: simple or elaborate, qualitative or quantitative, vision or execution, individual or comparison, change or status quo 
  • The types of visuals to use with the different ways of seeing 
The book is inspiring and contains many good examples. By the end of the book, I wanted to roll up my sleeves and start solving some problems.

Monday, January 23, 2012

So Big (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Truck Farming. Adventure. Cabbages. Beauty. Chicago. Hands. Success.

So Big by Edna Ferber is one of those books that gently touches the heart. It looks at the meaning of beauty and of success. Ferber shows us the life of Selina, whose grand adventure unexpectedly leads her to truck farming in Illinois in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s.  In one of the first chapters, Selina remarks that “Cabbages are beautiful,” a sentiment that sets the tone for much of the book. Later on, Ferber contrasts the life of Selina’s son, So Big (Dirk), with that of Selina’s protégée Roelf, who take very different paths in their adult lives. The novel won the 1925 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel and was made into a movie three times.

Briefly, Selina lives with her loving father, a philosophical man and a gambler. After he is killed, she takes a position as a teacher in a farming community. She plans this to be a launching point for a much bigger life. She lives with a farming family that includes a twelve year old boy, Roelf, who has “odd ideas.” His father thinks that he is too old to go to school. Selina nurtures his interest in books, beauty, and life. Soon, Selina falls in love with a loving but unadventurous farmer, Pervus, and they marry. Selina adapts to the hard farming life. In the early years, Selina continues to befriend Roelf. Pervus, who has always been “unlucky” at farming, ignores her suggestions on how to improve the farm. They have a son Dirk (So Big). When Pervus unexpectedly dies, Selina is left to support Dirk. With the financial help and moral support of a friend’s father, Selina creates a success farm. Despite always trying to do the best for Dirk, he turns into a man who has values that are very different from hers.

Selina is a strong female character. By the end of the novel I wanted to know her, even to be her. What I most admire is her sense of seeing the beauty in life. This is a gift.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Island of Dr. Moreau (Classic SF Novella)

A Rescue at Sea. Experiments. Vivisection. Animal Nature.

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells was first published in 1896. The story is part science fiction and part horror. Like The Time Machine, it is a timeless classic. I can see the influence of The Island of Dr. Moreau in China Mieville’s descriptions of the Remade from his novel Perdido Street Station.

Briefly, Edward Prendick is rescued at sea by Montgomery and finds himself on a strange island. He hears screams coming from the locked laboratory of Dr. Moreau. To evade the screams, Prendick explores the island. There he finds strange men who look like animals. His first thought is that Moreau is somehow turning men into animals and that his own life is in jeopardy. Moreau assures him that this is not true. When Montgomery and Moreau are both killed, Prendick finds himself alone with these strange creatures.

While I am normally not a fan of horror, I found the story fascinating. Wells’ world building is admirable. This could quite easily be a modern story. I am reminded of the recent discussion in the news of frankenfish.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Time Machine (Classic SF Novella)

It is a law of nature that we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble.
Time Travel. The Fate of Mankind. The Fate of the Earth. Prophesy. 

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells was published in1895. This novella is the ancestor of so much of the science fiction that we read today. —Would Connie Willis have written Blackout and All Clear if there had been no The Time Machine? Would Walter M. Miller have written A Canticle for Leibowitz? — While the novella introduces time travel, most of the story is devoted to describing a haunting dystopia. H. G. Wells challenged the people of his generation to think in a new way. The story might have even more relevance to those of us in the current era.

Briefly, a Victorian Era inventor creates a time machine in which he travels to the year 802,701. There he discovers that humanity has evolved into two separate species, neither of which is particularly intelligent. One is the frail but beautiful Eloi. The other is the unattractive, underground living Morlocks. When the time traveler’s time machine is stolen, he must find it or be stranded forever. Along the way, he becomes friends with Weena, an Eloi. He also uncovers the true relationship of the Eloi to the Morlocks.

This is the type of story that is hard to forget. The time traveler raises questions of why the two species evolved. More than a century later, one could argue that our dependence upon technology has the potential to propel us to a fate similar to that of the Eloi or Morlocks.

Monday, January 9, 2012

One of Ours (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Claude sat down again almost lost to himself in the feeling of being completely understood, of being no longer a stranger…Claude sat alone for half an hour or more, tasting a new kind of happiness, a new kind of sadness. Ruin and new birth; the shudder of ugly things in the past, the trembling image of beautiful ones on the horizon; finding and losing; that was life, he saw.
One of Ours by Willa Cather won the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. It is the story of a Claude, a young man from Nebraska, becoming his own person. I found the story melodic. Reading the novel felt like listening to music. Most of the story had a slow, but forward moving cadence.

Briefly, Claude is a sensitive young man, coming into adulthood before WWI. His parents send him away to a denomination college, instead of the state college he wants to attend. Just when he starts to enjoy school, his father puts him in charge of the family farm. He marries a woman who has no feelings of affection for him. Finally, he enlists in the Army, where he feels he is “somebody.”

I found reading One of Ours very peaceful, yet not the least bit plodding. Yes, there were gory scenes near the end of the novel, but the overall feeling was calm. The details and descriptions made the story worthwhile for me. There were many beautiful scenes of both Nebraska and Europe. The description of Claude taking the train on his wedding night has just the right details to create a feeling for Claude’s marriage. The two descriptions of Claude with cats help create other moods. Scene by scene Cather shows how Claude’s family slowly understands the extent of what is happening in Europe. Cather describes both the horrors of war and the beauty of Europe.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Amazing Absorbing Boy (Novel)

You know something Sammy? You is the first person in the family who so ambitious. I can’t figger out where you get it from…”

“…I remembered that less than two years earlier Miss Charles, our teacher at Mayaro Composite, had hinted that most orphans were doomed to become pickpockets and petty thieves…But, I thought of other orphans, Batman and Spider-Man, and most of the X-Men and the Legion who had refused to give in: each evening locating their special power and patiently understanding how to properly use it.”
Serendipity brought The Amazing Absorbing Boy by Rabindranath Maharaj into my world; it was mistakenly on our library’s list of new science fiction and fantasy. The novel is a light and touching tale of a comic book loving young man from Trinidad who finds himself living in Canada. The novel won the 2010 Trillium Book Award and the 2011 Toronto Book Award.

Briefly, Samuel has lived in Mayaro Trinidad all his life. As the story opens, he is seventeen and his mother is dying of cancer. His father abandoned them when Sam was six years old. About nine months after his mother’s death, his father, who has been living in Canada, sends for him. This is far from a happy reunion. His father is a jerk, barely talking to Sam and wondering why he is there. Sam sleeps on a piece of foam on the floor and has to find food for himself. But, most of the story is a fascinating tale of the people that Sam meets and the places he discovers. Told from the first person perspective, Sam often uses comic books as his point of reference. Towards the end of the story, the reader understands why the book is called The Amazing Absorbing Boy.

While in some ways this is a novel about Canada told from an immigrant’s perspective, it is so much more. It is about a boy mourning the death of his mother and trying to figure out his father. It is about a boy trying to make the best of a bad situation, drawing strength from his childhood, and finally triumphing. It is about the perspective—sometimes wise, sometimes naive—from which he looks at the people around him. I liked the book because it was a bit quirky, definitely well-written, and had a nice dash of humor. It definitely is enjoyable, even for those of us who are not Canadian.