Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Adjacent (Science Fiction Novel)

For me The Adjacent by Christopher Priest is part novel and part musical composition. Themes and plotlines repeat throughout. Characters reoccur. There are moments of beauty and harmony. There are moments of chaos, especially near the end. At the conclusion everything ties together, and the novel gives the reader a sense of release. I was also left with a mild sense of ambiguity: “What really happened?”

The central theme is the idea of being adjacent. Magicians use adjacency to misdirect the audience during magic tricks. The main character in the novel uses a camera that relies on adjacency technology. The adjacency defense falls into the wrong hands and soon becomes a horrible weapon. Adjacent is also the name of a mysterious shanty town.

The Adjacent has various other themes. Through photography and biography characters attempt to capture “what really happened.” War – WWI, WII, and a possible last war – also take center stage. Characters look for and attempt to give comfort. Characters attempt to find defenses for the weapons of war. Characters respond to the horrors of war. This is a novel that focuses on the human side of life.

One of the sections, while playing a part in the larger storyline, could be a standalone short story. It focuses on the relationship between a plane technician and one of the women who transports planes. She is portrayed as a romantic, heroic character, though in the end we wonder how much of her story is true.

Part of the story has haunted me since I finished the novel. The plotline takes place in the near future, where climate change has left parts of the world uninhabitable. The UK is also being devastated by powerful storms. I was left to wonder “Are the effects of climate change as devastating as the theoretical weapon?”

The Adjacent is only the second novel that I have read by Christopher Priest. I also read and thoroughly enjoyed The Islanders, which has a relatively similar style. Based on these two novels, I am definitely a fan. I am looking forward to reading some of his earlier novels and short stories.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Grace (Eventually) (Non-fiction)

Anne Lamott has changed the way that I look at my own spirituality. Before I thought of a spiritual person as being a kind of “goody goody” or perhaps somewhat mystical, different from the common herd. In Grace (Eventually), Lamott recounts stories from her life that show an earthy, sometimes almost irreverent, side to spirituality. She is wonderfully witty and decidedly liberal. She looks at the spiritual life with honesty, giving the reader permission to both be spiritual and also be lovingly flawed. Since I finished reading Grace (Eventually) a few weeks ago, I have found myself looking at my relationship with The Divine in a new way.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Looking for Jake (Fantasy, Short Fiction)

Almost all the stories in Looking for Jake by China Miѐvelle are disturbing. While I enjoy Miѐvelle’s craftsmanship as a storyteller, I feel unsettled by the content of these stories. He is able to begin with what appears to be a relatively benign setting and add layer upon layer until the reader finds herself in the middle of a horror story. The horror is mostly physiological, with a minimum amount of gore. One story involves installing a vintage mirror, another involves a children’s play area in a furniture store—what could be more benign?— This is definitely not your “fairies going on a quest” type of fantasy. This is the type of fantasy that you don’t want to read before going to bed for fear of the nightmares you will have.

Looking for Jake drove me to reading romance novel to try to clear the images out my head. That said, I admire Miѐvelle’s ability to create something fresh, to weave a story, to invoke feelings in the reader, to build unique and convincing worlds. While I have little urge to read more by Miѐvelle’s, I feel intellectually enriched by what I read.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blossom Street Brides (Romance Novel)

It is good to be back on Blossom Street, but not great to be back. While I enjoyed catching up with Lydia, the owner of the yarn shop on Blossom Street, Blossom Street Brides by Debbie Macomber is a bit too much of a romance novel for my tastes. Remember, I am not a great fan of romances.

The main story in the novel focuses on Lauren, who has just learned that her sister is pregnant. Lauren yearns for a family of her own but is dating a man who refuses to commit. Finally, Lauren decides to end the relationship. Almost immediately she meets Rooster, the business partner of Bethanne’s husband, Max. Is Lauren truly in love or is she merely on the rebound?

Blossom Street Brides has two subplots that involve conflict between mothers and daughters. Bethanne’s daughter Annie still has visions of a reunion between her mother and father, despite Bethanne’s marriage to Max. Must Bethanne choice between her daughter and husband? Elisa finds out that her nineteen year old daughter, Katie, is pregnant. Can Elisa prevent a repeat of her own, young marriage? Lydia’s adopted daughter, Casey, is having intense nightmares. What can Lauren do to help her daughter?

Lastly, Blossom Street Brides contains a small mystery. Someone is leaving baskets of yarn and knitting needles around town with instructions to spend a few moments knitting a few rows of a scarf that will be given to the homeless. The knitter can bring the completed scarf to Lydia’s yarn shop. The yarn definitely came from her store, but Lydia is not responsible for these mystery baskets. Who is leaving them?

While I enjoyed the subplots in Blossom Street Brides involving Lydia,  I missed the feeling of women’s knitting community that was present in some of the earlier novels. I liked the novel enough to continue to read the series, but not enough to try some of Macomber’s other series.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Rose Harbor in Bloom (Romance Novel)

I am not a fan of romance novels. I just don’t enjoy them. They bore me, and I find them trivial. I make an exception for some of Debbie Macomber’s series. While they seem a bit simplistic to me, they touch my heart and offer insights into the emotional struggles that we all face.

Rose Harbor in Bloom is the second book in the Rose Harbor Series, which centers on Jo Marie and her bed and breakfast. In this novel, she struggles with the possibility of finally knowing whether her husband, whose helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, is dead. Her friendship with Mark, the handyman, continues on its rocky path. Jo Marie also has guests this weekend. Mary is struggling with cancer and with some decisions that she made in the past. Annie wants to give her grandparents the perfect 50th wedding anniversary celebration, while struggling with her own love life.

In Rose Harbor in Bloom, Macomber looks at what makes for a strong relationship between two people. She looks at healing past wrongs and hurts. She also looks at letting go and starting a new life. Rose Harbor in Bloom definitely won’t convert me to being a romance novel reader, but I do look forward to the next novel in the series.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Forever Girl (Novel)

The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith is a story about love. There is no sex. There are no overt mysteries. There are no characters that one follows from one novel to another. There is a gentle book about love: falling out of love, struggling with unrequited love, trying to understand what love really means, and loving one’s children. Part of the story takes place in the Cayman Islands. Alexander McCall Smith brings them to life the same way he brings Botswana to life in the #1 Ladies Detective Series. In the beginning of the novel Amanda realizes that she has fallen out of love with her husband. She briefly entertains the idea of having an affair with a man to whom she is attracted. This brief non-affair has some unexpected consequences for Amanda and her family. Amanda’s daughter, Clover, realizes that she is in love with her best friend, James. Is it true that each of us has only one soulmate? Is love different for men than it is for women? Is friendship and kindness enough if there is no love in the relationship? As much as I enjoy Alexander McCall Smith various series, I am glad that he has been writing some stand alone novels lately. The Forever Girl allows him to focus on just one idea, the human heart. I admit that I got a little weepy at the end. The last paragraph is perfect, totally perfect.