Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Familiar 2: Into the Forest (Multi-genre Novel)

Evocative. The second volume of The Familiar, Into the Forest, by Mark Z. Danielewski is a novel that is able to evoke strong emotion in the reader. While the novel could be called “experimental,” I am more comfortable calling it “multi-layered." Typography and some other visual effects are used to add depth to the story. Two subplots quickly come to mind. One is Xanther trying to cope with the threat of bullies at school. Another involves her mother, Astair, trying to recover after a failed dissertation. In both cases, I had almost a visceral sense of what these characters were experiencing.

Into the Forest is a direct sequel to One Rainy*. I could argue that Into the Forest is just another chapter in what may be, according to an NPR interview, a 27 volume novel. (Okay, this seems a bit insane.) Like One Rainy Day, Into the Forest has multiple story threads, which interweave. In this second installment, we learn a bit more about how some of the storylines are related to one another. There is some violence. There is some graphic sex. But, for me the main plotline(s) was a beautiful story about family members trying to cope with their lives. Xanther is an awkward, sickly girl who takes comfort in a “kitten” that she mysteriously found. Anwar, her dedicated stepfather, tries to protect her while dealing with a professional and financial crisis. Astair tries to not only raise three children, but also to salvage a rejected dissertation. Then there is the “kitten,” which is not only not the dog that Astair had planned to buy, but is also not a kitten.

Because so much of the plot remains a mystery, the genre of the ever-growing The Familiar also remains a mystery. It seems to be part science fiction, part horror, perhaps even part cyber or urban fantasy, I am still a big fan of The Familiar. When I read about the projected length, I have some concerns. Will I be able to recall the “story up to this point,” when each new novel/volume comes out? By volume ten, will I be in a place in my life that I even care? Still, I’m looking forward to Volume 3, which is scheduled for a summer release.

*Note: while I am publishing my reactions to One Rainy Day and Into the Forest a few days apart, I actually read One Rainy Day in June and wrote a first draft of my reaction a few days later. I went through a five month periods of not feeling comfortable blogging about books.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May (Experimental Fiction)

The Familiar: One Rainy Day in May by Mark Z. Danielewski contains good story telling. While it is easy to get caught up in labels like “experimental fiction,” the bottom line for me is whether the writing was good and I was emotionally moved by the story. Yes. The non-traditional techniques –like using different font types, manipulating the space on the page, and using unfamiliar language—add dimensions to the multiple storylines of the novel.

The novel takes place on one rainy day. The storylines take place in multiple locations –a number in Los Angeles. Some of the stories are dark. Others touching. The major storyline is about a twelve year old girl, a sweet misfit, and her loving step-dad. For me, each storyline contained some level of mystery, confusion, and/or uncertainty.

Because this is the first novel in a longer series, the book only hints at how the storylines might relate with one another. I was left with more questions than answers. I want more. Now. Certainly the reader that starts in on reading book 1 before the other books in the series are published will have a different experience than readers who can read synopses of later books. Is this fiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror? How do the storylines fit together?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Clockwork Lives (Steampunk Novel)

I love a good “Hero’s Journey” story. Clockwork Lives, by Kevin J. Anderson & Neil Peart, caught my eye from the moment I came through the doors of my local library and approached the New Book bookcases. I noticed the deep red cover, which was embossed with a clockwork design and alchemical symbols, on the New Book bookcases. “Oh, what are you about, my darling.” I didn’t bother to check to see whether the novel was part of a series. Nope. And I’m glad that I didn’t. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, and now I can go back to the library and find the novel which inspired them and introduced the clockwork world.

The premise behind the journey is simple. Marinda has spent much of her life taking care of her sickly father. He loves stories and inventions, but she is a very pragmatic woman. “…she was content with her quiet, perfect life, setting her ambitions low enough so that she met every single one of them.” After he dies, she goes to the solicitor, assuming that she is going to inherit the home in which she and her father have lived. And she does, sort of. She must first complete a task. In the will her father writes:“At first you will hate me for this. Then you will love me for it.” The solicitor hands Marinda a blank, alchemical book and a golden needle. By pricking a person’s finger and putting a drop of their blood on a page of the book, the person’s true story appears. Before she can again live in her home and inherit her father’s other wealth, Marinda must first fill the book with stories. To start off the book, her father has included a tiny vial of his own blood. Marinda is given five days before the house is to be boarded up for safekeeping. She is also give a small stipend to live on until she completes her task. How hard can filling the book be? “The sooner she filled this book with its life stories, the sooner she could be back to her normal schedule.” She thinks that she might even be able to fill the book with stories before the five days are up. But Marinda soon discovers: “Some lives can be summed up in a sentence or two. Other lives are epics.” So, she is compelled to go off on a journey to find stories, and, of course, in the process she is changed. The book is a mixture of other people’s stories and Marinda’s own adventures.

I felt very contented when I finished reading Clockwork Lives. I once heard a Jungian say that we are biologically encoded for the archetypal hero’s journey. I loved Anderson and Peart’s world building. Even though many of the stories were a bit on the tragic side, they were all enjoyable. Part of me hopes that Marinda will collect even more stories for me to read. As for me, I am going to read Clockwork Angels, so that I can enjoy the clockwork world more.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Canterbury Sisters (Novel)

The Canterbury Tales. Mothers and Daughters. Death. Forgiveness. Healing. Stories. A Pilgrimage. Friendships. Death. Relationships. Lovers. What Women Want.
Okay, I thought. Here’s what I don’t have. I don’t have a mother, or a lover, or a phone, or any fucking clue of why I’m here, where I’m going next, or what any of this means.
Kim Wright, The Canterbury Sisters

When Che receives her mother’s ashes, there is a note attached, a last request: take the ashes to Canterbury, “It is never too late for healing.” Che would have ignored the note, except that her boyfriend had also sent a note. He was breaking up with her and would call her to work out the details. So, to fulfill her mother’s last wishes and to avoid the inevitable conversation with her now ex-boyfriend, Che books a flight to London. When her private tour guide becomes ill, Che finds herself on a pilgrimage (run by Broads Abroad) going from London to Canterbury with eight other women. In the tradition of The Canterbury Tales, each woman is to tell a “love story,” whether true or fictional. Through the pilgrimage and the stories, Che finds the healing that her mother wanted for her.

The Canterbury Sisters by Kim Wright gave me the same pleasure that I associate with the sight of a well-planned, well-maintained garden. There was the pleasure of the description of the walk to Canterbury, based upon Wright’s own experiences. There was the pleasure of the skillful writing.The description of Che’s mother’s ashes in the zip lock bag and then in the fish and chips bag is wonderful, both amusing and touching. The women’s stories and the narration of their experiences on the trip gave me insight into the lives of women and their complexities. Che is a bit snooty and at the same time vulnerable, making her an appealing character. My only major criticism is that part of the ending seemed contrived.

I rarely read non-genre –science fiction, mystery, fantasy– fiction. I’m not sure it is in my true nature. But, this novel does make me want to read more novels by Kim Wright.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Terms of Enlistment (Science Fiction)

What would you do if you were desperate? You live in a welfare tenement surrounded by hopelessness, crime, and extreme poverty. You are given synthetic food that never quite tastes like food. Your only real chance out is to enlist in the military. You need to stay in and stay alive for five years to see any real reward and then it is a minor one. But you get to eat real food and get a chance to experience life beyond the Public Residence Clusters (PRC). Could you be focused enough, disciplined enough, and lucky enough to at least have a chance at a decent life? Through the character of Andrew Grayson, who lives in the not so distant future, Marko Kloos explores that question in the novel Terms of Enlistment.

Terms of Enlistment begins with Andrew’s farewells in the PRC and his basic training. While Andrew dreams of escaping his life and going into space, his “permanent” assignment is a disappointing one, the Territorial Army, think the National Guards. There he makes good friends but must help control the very violence in the PRC’s that he tried to escape. Despite his bravery and exceptional military savvy. Andrew makes a major mistake, one that costs dozens of civilians their lives. Through his well-earned earned political connections, Andrew manages an unheard of reassignment, one to the Navy, which now allows him to go into outer space. But, his first real mission is far more unusual than anyone ever expected; they learn that humans are not alone in the universe.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I am not a lover of military fiction, even if it is science fiction. The fact that I even ended up reading Terms of Enlistment is the result of a series of flukes. So here we are. I won’t praise or criticize the novel. What I can tell you is that my reaction to the PRC’s and the military fighting in them surprised me. First I thought that Kloos was cynical when it came to human nature. And then the Boston riots happened in the world outside the book. While Kloos interpretation of unrest wasn’t a literal one, it did capture some of the flavor of it. The book made me think in ways I would not have otherwise, which I always consider a good thing.

Well, since I talked my local Library system into purchasing the first two books in Kloos’s series, I’m committed to reading the follow-up to Terms of Enlistment, Lines of Departure. At least it has space aliens in it. We will see.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Trader (Urban Fantasy)

Imagine that you are Max Trader, a world renowned luthier, a maker of string instruments. A "Trader" is something that musicians dream of owning. Then, imagine one day waking up in the body of a stranger, someone loathed. Soon you are homeless. You are friendless and without the trade that you have loved and thrived in all your life. Now what do you do? This is the premise behind Trader, another book in Charles de Lint’s Newford series.

In Trader we also meet Nia, the teenager daughter of a single mother. Max Trader has become her confidant. She is the first person to realize that there is someone else in Max’s body. Then, she sees her mother kissing a woman. Has the world turned into a dangerous place filled with body snatchers? The only thing she can think of doing is to run away from home.

Trader is a novel with a lot of heart. I couldn’t help but fall in love with Max and Nia and many of the others characters in the story. Trader is also thoughtful and thought provoking. Is Max totally a victim or does he bear some responsibility for what happened to him? How does a physical body affect the consciousness that inhabits it? And, as Nia asks: “What were you supposed to do when your world came to an end, when there was nothing you could count on anymore? What was the point of even trying to go on?”

The novel isn’t perfect. I found one of the minor subplots flat and cliché. Also, if the novel had been written post-economic crash, I would have been frustrated with the ending, wanting the same overall feeling but a little different outcome. While the story is for the most part timeless and relevant, in a small way we have emotionally changed since 1997.

I found Trader comforting, like having a nice conversation with a friend. The story is enjoyable and interesting. I like the world de Lint creates in the Newford series. He doesn’t come back to the same protagonists, though Jilly does play an important part in the plotline of Trader. In that it differs from my other favorite series. I remember first discovering the Bryant and May series and not wanting to stop reading the books until I ran out of them. So far, I feel the same way about the Newford series.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Dreams Underfoot (Urban Fantasy)

Where or where have I been? When I found Dreams Underfoot, a book in the Newford Series by Charles de Lint, at my local library, I felt like someone who found out that their new best friend had been living only a few blocks away most of their life. The book is over two decades old. (If I had discovered the series earlier, I could have avoided reading a lot of bad fiction.) The book is the exact style that I have a hard time putting down. The fantasy is fresh. Even familiar plotlines are presented with new twists. The characters are sympathetic and three dimensional. De Lint dares to take on some difficult subjects.

Dreams Underfoot is a series of short stories which take place in the city of Newford. Magic can be found for those who believe and are willing to experience it. A number of the stories take on the subject of child and sexual abuse. Some of the stories have happy ending; other do not. At least one is a horror story. While many of the same characters are woven into the stories, only one story requires a direct knowledge of a previous one.

Dreams Underfoot contains good storytelling. The fantasy element never becomes distracting or silly. Rather, it enriches the plot. Let’s see whether the other books in the series are just as good.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Memory and Dream (Urban Fantasy)

Art. Mentors. Magic. Being Real. Physical Abuse. Emotional Abuse. Friends. Love. Community. Having a Purpose. Identity. Suicide. Success. Justification of Physical Violence. Power. Control. Acceptance of Different Realities.

Over the last few years I have come to believe more and more that science and religion have failed us. The only real hope for the long term survival of the human race –and for many individuals—is art. I have been in such a deep, deep depression recently that there is no way that I can critique Charles de Lint’s novel Memory & Dreams. I’m not sure whether it is a good or mediocre book. I’m not sure whether I would recommend it. Quite frankly, I’m not sure whether I enjoyed it. What I do know is that in this second book that I have read of De Lint's I continue to admire his commitment to take on tough subjects. I am fascinated that he chose an urban fantasy format to tell this story. The story could have just as easily been told as a science fiction story with parallel universes or a supernatural detective story. Instead he chose to wrap the story around the lives of artists. My depression compromised intellect also knows that there are layers of meaning to this story, I just can’t follow them right now.

The main character in Memory and Dream is Izzy/Isabel, an artist. She is flattered when a renowned artist, Rushkin, discovers her and takes her on as his protégée. His mentoring helps her become an accomplished artist. Right from the beginning of their relationship, we learn that he is controlling. As the story progresses, we learn that he is emotionally and physically abusive. Yet, the abuses are just the overt aspects of his darkness. As Izzy learns more and more from Rushkin, she acquires the ability to create painting that bring numena over from the “before.” Are numena creatures that Izzy has created or are they independent beings for which Izzy has provided a doorway?

The story takes place in two general time periods: roughly, Izzy’s early years as an artist and the present when her friend Alan is trying to convince her to illustrate a volume of Kathy’s stories. Kathy was Izzy’s close friend who died. Why does Isabel insist that Kathy died of cancer when Alan know that Kathy killed herself? Who set that fire that destroyed all of Izzy’s most cherished paintings? The destruction of the paintings killed Izzy’s numenas, who were like children to her, and caused her to withdraw from the world. What is the true nature of Rushkin’s relationship to Izzy? How will Izzy’s friendships be affected when the truth about the paintings is known? Can Izzy/Isabel survive the truth about her past?

Memory and Dreams is an early book in Charles de Lint’s Newport series. Having the same setting and some familiar characters as the earlier book of short stories gave me a sense of “coming home” when I read this book. While the characters from the earlier book take on minor roles, it is nice to see them again. Even if I wanted to, I think it would be very hard to get ahold of all the books in the series. Unlike some of my other favorite series, it doesn’t appear to matter. The punchline is that Newport is filled with magic for those willing to see it, period.

Despite my surface level ambivalence about Memory and Dream, part of me positively responded to the book. I want to read more, not necessarily because I’m drawn to the magic, but because I’m drawn to the universal messages clothed in the magic. Like the numena in Memory and Dreams, I don’t think any of us really understands what it is to be real, but we have to try our darndest to live it.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart (Mystery Novel)

After reading Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, I have once again put the Bryant and May Series by Christopher Fowler on the top of my list of favorite book series. The Bleeding Heart has the right blend of silliness and seriousness. It has a good mystery that had me holding my breath in places. It has good heart. And, of course, it contains arcane facts about London that Fowler is so good at uncovering.

The Invisible Code, the last book in the series, ended with a bit of foreboding. Bryant had found a new nemesis, Mr. Merry, a necromancer. In Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, Mr. Merry menaces the somewhat fragile Bryant. But, first things first, the Peculiar Crimes Unit is under new jurisdiction, reporting to the City of London. They now report to Orion Banks, who unfortunately speaks little conversational English. She is, on the other hand, fluent in marketing and business jargon. (Fowler almost had me rolling on the floor laughing.) The Peculiar Crimes Unit must solve two mysteries: a man reportedly rising from the dead and the disappearance of the ravens from the Tower of London. In addition, Janice Longbright has finally risked her heart in love, with Jack Renfield. Janice’s attempt to befriend his teenage daughter results in unexpected consequences.

Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart has what I refer to as “good heart.” We finally find out Bryant’s backstory, why he became a police officer. We see Bryant in all his vulnerability and all his strength. While Longbright’s story is a secondary plotline, it is well developed, giving her the attention that she deserves and making us feel for her. Fowler develops the character of one of the victims so well that we feel his lost after his murder. With the addition of Banks, Fowler asks the question, “What role can the Peculiar Crimes Unit possibly play in a world where cyber and white collar crime are now the fares of the day?” The question made me look at my own place is this rapidly evolving world.

Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart is a little—just a little— lighter on the occult and on Bryant’s usual shenanigans than in some of the earlier books in the series. In their place is some stronger character development. The novel was just the right blend for me, keeping me as a loyal fan of the series.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Blood of Angels (Science Fiction Novel)

The Blood of Angels is one of the most thought-provoking and controversial books that I have read in a long, long time. The novel was written by the Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo and translated into English by Lola Rogers. This short novel takes on such issues as Colony Collapse Catastrophe (Disorder), the meat industry, capitalism, and the funeral industry. The Blood of Angels contains numerous descriptions that made me feel vaguely nauseous. Parts of the plotline are incredibly sad. Yet, I actually enjoyed the book. It was well written. The main character and his son are characters whom I am glad that I met. I enjoyed learning about bees.

The main character in The Blood of Angels, the narrator, is the owner of a funeral home. But, his passion is raising bees. His grown son is a blogger, who is involved in a controversial animal rights group. The novel weaves between the blog posts and the narration. Bit by bit we learn that something tragic has happened to the son. In addition, the father thinks that he has found a portal into another world, one where the bees are healthy. Does the portal really exist or is it the result of grief and too much alcohol?

The Blood of Angels haunted me for days. How can you unread a book? It still makes me question my own values and behavior. Yes, I definitely recommend the book. But, in some people it will stir up thoughts that they have comfortably ignored.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Here (Graphic Novel)

Here by Richard McGuire is an amazing and masterful book. McGuire is able to convey ideas and feelings that he would not otherwise be able to communicate by pictures or words alone. The novel is poetic, almost musical, having a rhythm to it. After I finished the book, I felt the stillness I associate with listening to the last notes of a symphony. Even now, weeks later, when I think about the book I am mesmerized.

Here explores the idea of space and time. It takes place in a single location over billions of years, going from the distant past to the distant future. Most of the book takes place in one room of one house between 1907 and 2015. Most of the two page layouts contain scenes from multiple years juxtaposed. Storylines interweave. Ideas and experiences repeat yet contain their own unique qualities. The book contains numerous vignettes and stories, yet the overall experience is greater than the sum of its parts.

Here felt familiar, making me nod and think, “Yes, this is my story. Yes, I remember that.” In addition, I actually am one of those people who goes past a spot and remembers its history and wonders about its future. I am so grateful to know that I am not alone in that. I am so grateful for having experienced Here.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

How to Avoid Making Art (Creativity Book)

Oh My!.... Oh MY!.... OH MY! ....How to Avoid Making Art (or Anything Else You Enjoy) was written by Julia Cameron – like the Julia Cameron of The Artist Way fame– and illustrated by her sister Elizabeth Cameron. Do not let the deceptively cute pictures fool you; this is a book that will have you taking a hard look at your procrastination issues. Page after page I saw myself. I laughed. I wanted to scream. I buried my face in a nearby pillow and wanted to hide. This is a book that I need by my reading/sometimes writing chair, so that I will catch myself in the act of avoiding making art.

A quick personal story: in early winter I took a fiction writing class through a MOOC. The first assignment was to start keeping a journal. How hard could that be? I’ve kept journals in the past. I absolutely couldn’t do it and ended up not finishing the course. Recently, I discovered that I had taken out a book from the Library on book making so that I could hand-make a book to use to write a journal. That was the moment I knew I had avoidance issues.

How to Avoid Making Art has been in  print over ten years, so I assume there must be at least some people as wacky as I am out there. Let's all keep on reading the book and making art.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

At the Bottom of Everything (Novel)

I love when Our Lady of Serendipity finds me a good book. While I waited for a few books that I had reserved to come into the library, I looked for a short, recently published novel to tide me over. What I found was At the Bottom of Everything by Ben Dolnick, an author whose books I hadn’t read before. I loved the voice of the first-person narrator: the humor, the inner conflict, the perspective on life. Some of the details felt intimate. I liked how e-mails were used to bring in other voices to the novel. I enjoyed the storyline, which took me from the familiar world of childhood to a life that had taken a tragic turn and from the American suburbs to a cave in India.

Briefly, Adam befriends the socially awkward but intelligent Thomas. “I liked being the kid who cracked Thomas Pell; it was like having learned to communicate with an owl.” They become best friends. While Adam evolves into a typical teenage boy, Thomas remains unsure and awkward. In order to test their limits, the boys decide to engage in some minor hijinks involving Thomas’s dad’s car. Unfortunately one of their outings goes tragically wrong and indirectly results in the death of a young woman. No one finds out about their role in the accident. The boys end their friendship shortly after that and grew apart. “Thomas and I, who’d seen each other naked at the aquatic center, who’d woken up a hundred times on side-by-side mattresses, who shared a secret more serious than any married couple…now we were awkward together.” Ten years later, Adam is trying to find his way in the world with varying success. Meanwhile Thomas drops out of college after having a breakdown. While Adam has been able to put the accident behind him, Thomas is consumed by the guilt. When Thomas disappears in India, his parents turn to Adam to find him. How far will Adam go to find the man who was once his best friend?

At the Bottom of Everything was a special treat for me because it does a nice job of developing characters. I would like to read Dolnick’s earlier books to see more of his character development.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Etta and Otto and Russell and James (Novel)

Etta Gloria Kinnick of Deerdale farm. 83 years old in August.
Otto Vogel. Husband. Soldier/Farmer. (Living)
Russell Palmer. Friend, Farmer/Explorer. (Living)
As Etta walks across Canada in order to see the ocean, she carries a note in her pocket to remind herself of who she is and who she has loved.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper is a beautiful little story. If the novel were a painting, I would say that in just a few strokes it shows the essence of the subject. In just a few words, with simple language, with just a few key scenes, Hooper describes the essence of the friendships, loves, loses, and war experiences of the characters.

The plotlines of Etta and Otto and Russell and James cover two major time periods: the 1930s/early 1940s and the present day. In the early time period, we learn about the families of  Etta, Otto, and Russell. As a young boy, Russell makes himself part of the large Vogel household and becomes Otto's friend. When their teacher becomes sick, Etta takes over and forms a friendship with the boys, who are the same age as she is. When Otto goes to war, Etta and Otto exchange letters and fall in love. When the school closes because of lack of pupils, Etta takes factory work and waits for Otto to return. In the meantime, Russell becomes a farmer, acquiring some of the untended farms. In the present day, Etta leaves Otto a note saying that she is going to go in search of the water, which Otto realizes is over three thousand kilometers away. As Etta waited for Otto, he now waits for her. In time he begins to make paper machѐ animals that he plans to give her when she comes back. Both Etta and Otto becomes celebrities of sorts: Etta for her trip, Otto for her art. As for James, one really needs to read the book to quite understand.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James is a book that you need to feel with your heart as much as read with your head. After I finished reading the novel, scenes kept on flashing into my consciousness. I saw dozens of scenes, each so perfect and filled with meaning, with heart. I feel blessed to have read the book.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

War for the Oaks (Urban Fantasy Novel)

Fairies. Friendship. The Magic of Rock and Roll.

I found War for the Oaks by Emma Bull on a list of Science Fiction and Fantasy books to cheer one up. Even though the book is almost three decades old, it still warmed my heart. Who couldn’t love a book where one of the romantic characters is a fairy that turns into a dog? Yes, the novel has a bit of sex, but the scenes are sweet and touching. While it has some sad parts, friendship triumphs in the end. Yup, I felt better after reading it.

War for the Oaks is set in, what at the time the novel was written, modern-day Minneapolis. Eddi is going through young-adult angst because she is breaking up with both her band and her boyfriend. Walking home alone at night, she is accosted by two good fairies, who have recruited her to be their human representative in a little squabble between the fairies of darkness and the fairies of light. It turns out that having a human on the battlefield will allow the normally immortal fairies to actually die. But, the battle is awhile off, so in the meantime Eddi needs a protector from the fairies of darkness and a new band so that she can pay the bills. Eddi learns a lot about fairies and about herself.

At first I was put off by the writing style of War for the Oaks. The author seemed to be trying too hard. But, from the very beginning, I loved the characters. The phouka, Eddi’s fairy dog/human protector, is funny, lovable, and vulnerable. Carla, Eddi’s friend and a member of the band, is the friend that we all wish we had. Willy, an upper-class fairy, is sexy, sometimes obnoxious, and sympathetic. And, the list goes on. This is definitely a triumph of friendship novel.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Happiness Advantage (Self-Help/Business Book)

Most self-help authors don’t bother to mention the fact that they did not actually steal a police car. But for Shawn Achor that personal fact becomes a vivid teaching point. His stories and metaphors make The Happiness Advantage memorable. His life experiences and academic credentials make the book credible. On top of that, The Happiness Advantage is very, very practical.

I have evidently been reading articles by Achor for years – O Magazine, Success, Live Happy – but, I did not really pay attention to him until I recently watched an episode of Super Soul Sunday. To me the idea of happiness seemed like so much fluff. Achor has a way of making us look at happiness in a new way, as a key ingredient to our personal and professional success. His credential are impressive. He has practical experience. He worked as a proctor in the dorms at Yale for twelve years and has consulted all over the world. Yet, he also has a degree from Yale and can draw on scientific studies associated with happiness. He has a knack for creating vivid images, describing such principles as “The Tetris Effect” and the “Zorro Circle.” In The Happiness Advantage he also gives easy to follow steps that we can take to be happier.

It is so easy to read self-help book after self-help book, feeling good for a time and changing nothing in or lives. The Happiness Advantage is filled with great ideas, but it is just another book unless the ideas are integrated into our daily lives. I think The Happiness Advantage, well, has an advantage over other books because it is so memorable.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The White Magic Five and Dime (Mystery)

I needed a break from all the power struggles and politics (Imaginer’s series) that I had been reading about lately. A trip to the New Book section at my local library netted me a fun and well-crafted novel, The White Magic Five and Dime by Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco. In some ways it reads like the breezy, guilty pleasures mysteries that I have come to love, yet The White Magic Five and Dime is a bit more. A solid backstory is woven into the book, giving perspective to the characters and their motives. Also woven into the story is a sarcastic interpretation of Tarot cards.

Briefly, Alanis, a very successful telemarketer, learns that her estranged mother is dead, actually murdered. The mother has left her some money, a car, and The White Magic Five and Dime, out of which her mother had been giving Tarot readings. Alanis takes some time off from work to go to the small town near Sedona where her mother lived and to settle matters. Despite her feelings towards her mother, Alanis feels compelled to solve the mystery of her mother’s murder. She finds plenty of suspects, including people whom her mother had conned and her mother’s teenage housemate, Clarice. In order to catch the murderer, Alanis decides to pose as a Tarot reader herself, which requires her to actually learn about the Tarot. Luckily, she finds an informative book, Miss Chance’s Infinite Road’s to Knowing.

The plotline involves more than a woman solving a murder. Slowly we learn why and how Alanis and her mother became estranged. As Alanis reads the Tarot cards and interacts with the townsfolks, we see a gentler side to the snarky, cynical Alanis. Near the end of the novel, Alanis wonders whether her mother gave her the money and store as a gift of kindness or as a long-con, an ultimate revenge. The ending has some wonderful little twists, and, of course, foreshadows new novels in the series. I may have found a new series to love.