Friday, July 26, 2013

The Woman Who Died A Lot (Science Fiction Novel)

Everything seemed somehow peaceful, even though the day did not portend well for a number of reasons, an inevitable murder being one of them and a cleansing pillar of fire for the other.
The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde, the seventh book in the Thursday Next series, is a delightful romp in an alternative reality. As with the previous books, I was only a few pages in before I found myself laughing out loud. This novel focuses less on the world of literature than the previous books and a little more on science fiction. New readers will have no clue what is going on; you really have to start with the first book in the Thursday Next series, The Eyre Affair. On the other hand, fans will have the satisfaction of seeing a number of plots from previous novels wrapped up.

Briefly, in the beginning of the book we learn that Swindon is destined to be smitted by God, and Friday, Thursday’s son, is destined to murder a young man. Thursday, of course, would like to prevent both of these things from happening. Her sixteen year old daughter, Tuesday, attempts to prevent the smiting, while also pursing young men and some interesting science projects. Thursday is rejected as head of the newly reactivated SO-27 and instead appointed as head of the Swindon All-You-Can-Eat-at-Fatso’s Drink Not Included Library. To complicate matters, Thursday occasionally finds herself in another body. Jenny’s existence continues to be cause for concern. And, of course, Goliath continues to be up to no good.

Besides having an enjoyable time reading The Woman Who Died A Lot, I continue to admire Jasper Fforde’s world building. This alternative history is so wonderfully quirky and yet the characters feel very real. I found The Woman Who Died A Lot easier to read than the previous books in the series because it contains fewer allusions to literature. Again, I can hardly wait to read the next book in the series.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds (Mystery Novel)

But Cat says that you’re always interfering. She says that you get mixed up in all sorts of things and that you help people. She told me. And everybody know it. They know that if they need something sorted, they can go to you.”
In the above quote, Eddie, an employee of Isabel's niece, perfectly sums up the Isabel Dalhouse novels. The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith is the ninth novel in the series. It is part mystery, part philosophical musings, and part a gentle look at life. It appeals more to our right brains than our left.

Briefly, Isabel is approached by a “friend” whose friend, Duncan Munrowe, has had a very expensive painting stolen. In a bold move, the thief has chosen to use an intermediary to negotiate a type of ransom. Isabel tries to find out who stole the painting while she also offers emotional support to Duncan.

But the novel is really about people. Duncan ‘s relationship with his children takes center stage. Isabel and her husband Jamie are at odds with Grace, their beloved housekeeper, on how to best raise Charlie. Isabel learns more about Eddie’s painful past. Isabel struggles with biting her tongue and being kind.

The book is also about philosophy. Some of the discussions are abstract. What do we owe to future generations? How important is ethnic identity? Others are to close to home:
It was all very well being the editor of a journal of applied ethics; you could deliberate to your heart’s content on the rightness or wrongness of action, but none of it was real; not until somebody actually came up to you, as Duncan now was doing, and said: "Tell me what to do."
Part of me wonders why I read the Isabel Dalhouse novels; perhaps they are a bit highbrow for me. I don’t know much about art. I can’t relate much to wealth. I’ve never even been to Scotland. Yet, I know I sleep better when I have read one of Alexander McCall Smith’s books during the day. I feel more compassionate towards people. I look at life differently. I find myself replaying scenes in my mind. I find a kind of gentleness walks with me throughout my day. For me, The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds is not only a book; it is also a balm to soothe a troubled soul, at least for a few hours.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pinterest Kick Start (Non-fiction How to Book)

I confess that I joined Pinterest because I wanted to be entered in a contest to win $500 of free clothes. I had no idea what I was doing, but I figured out enough to pin five pictures to my board. Pinterest Kickstart by Heather Morris and David Todd was a nice book to help me better understand Pinterest. After reading the book, I consider Pinterest as both a social networking site and also as a medium/tool for working with ideas.

Pinterest Kickstart is both a technical book and an idea book. It talks about how to navigate Pinterest and describes some of the apps and sites to use with it. The book also describes uses for Pinterst, everything from planning a wedding to promoting an event.

For those of us who are visual thinkers, Pinterest Kickstart offers inspiration. I already started to put my reading list on Pinterest. The book is relatively short and not particularly technical, but it is a good starting point for those of us new to Pinterest.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Trains and Lovers (Novel)

The moon is all about love,” he said. “The moon is about how we love others. About how we just want the best for those we love. We want them to be happy. We want everything to work out for them. The moon wants that for us, you know. That’s what the moon is.”
The recently released Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith is a novel about love. Like most of AMS’s novels, this one is best experienced with the heart.

The premise is that four people are sitting together on a train traveling from Edinburgh to London. Each one tells a story – actually I’m not sure whether the fourth person tells the story or just reflects to himself. At least three of the stories reference trains in some way. One story is about an art student who takes an internship at an auction house and falls in love with a woman who has a possessive father. A second story describes a Scotsman who moves to Australia and takes a job at a remote station. As part of his contract, he is required to have a wife. A third story describes what happens when a young man misses his train and meets a young woman who is waiting for her roommate who doesn’t show up. A fourth story describes the lifelong relationship between two boys who meet near their parents’ summer homes.

Part of me feels that AMS chickened out by not telling the story of gay lovers. Yet, considering his many fans, maybe it was a necessary step. Metaphorically, he pushes the envelope without bending it out of shape, alienating some of his readers.

For me, each of the stories in Trains and Lovers is a little world that I wanted to explore further. This day after finishing the book, a lazy Fourth of July, I spent some time musing about each storyline. Trains and Lovers is a small book, but it is thought provoking.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tales of the South Pacific (Pulitzer Winning Fiction Book)


I might argue that Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener is primarily a book about what happens while Navy men and women wait and prepare for action in the South Pacific Islands during the Second World War. The book is a hybrid, short stories that together tell an overarching story. The book won the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, which that year had been changed from the former category of Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. In 1949, Tales of the South Pacific was made into a successful musical.

Two short stories especially tugged at my heart. In the first, “Mutiny,” Norfolk is planned to have a strategic airstrip built on it. When an officer goes to the island to find out what the delay is all about, the inhabitants teach him about the emotional history of the island. In the second touching story, “The Cave,” a brave Brit goes behind Japanese lines and gives radio broadcasts, which help with the Ally war efforts. To some of the Americans waiting on the islands, he is a type of folk hero. To others, he is an obsession. When the broadcasts abruptly stop, some of the listening Americans set out to find out what happened to him.

Oh, I am oh so tired of reading all the war stories among the Pulitzer winners. I enjoyed many of the short stories in Tales of the South Pacific, but others were a chore to read. I was glad that some of the short stories take on issues of prejudice and racism. I also was grateful that much of the book looks at human nature. Most of the stories have a certain depth to them. I am also glad that the Pulitzer award category is expanded to include a book of short stories. I finished Tales of the South Pacific curious to see the musical.