Welcome to my bookshelf


I am a voracious reader who is constantly found with her nose in a good (although sometimes not so good) book. I felt the need to share my experiences and suggestions, so here it is. Recommendations and comments are most definitely desired.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Sweet Life

Currently Reading: The Chocolate Money

Tabitha "Babs" Ballentyne is at once the most lamentable and deplorably character I have come across in years.  Heiress to the Ballentyne Chocolate fortune, Babs lives life by her own set of rules irregardless of the consequences.  In fact, I highly doubt she recognizes the consequences of her actions at all.  Four pages in and you will want to throw her under a bus (the irony of that statement becomes clear towards the end of the book).

The worst part about Babs and her life of luxury is not so much the effects on herself, but those that befall upon her young and lonely daughter Bettina.  Bettina grows up in a world so far from the norm that she has no idea how to deal with the reality she must face when she is finally shipped off to boarding school.  I know you are thinking, boarding school and reality, what?  But the lifestyle afforded by the Chocolate Money is that ridiculous.  As she wades her way through school, Bettina regrettably finds herself following in her mother's footsteps, callously stomping upon her fellow students' feelings and leaving carnage in her wake.  Bettina's saving grace is that she is aware of the hurt she causes and feels an inordinate amount of guilt over it.

After a series of truly unfortunate events, Bettina eventually finds some sense of normalcy and proceeds to (mostly) reverse the effects of growing up in her mother's "aparthouse".  In the end, she is still a flawed young woman, but one who will not squander the Chocolate Money in such a callous way as Babs did.  You will want to alternately laugh and cry throughout this entire novel and if nothing else, may come away from it all with a far higher appreciation for your own humble world.

I have been reading quite a bit of fluff lately too and one thing that keeps popping up is the idea of socialites and heiresses.  These rare beauties are completely foreign to me.  I have no idea what motivates them and how they can live with themselves as they continue to move through life with only themselves first and foremost in their minds.  Are they for real or just fairy tale creatures?  I'm not talking about starlets and pop princesses.  These are honest to god young ladies who have no source of income other than the family coffers.  Completely bizarre.  I guess that's why they show up so often in these fictional tales.  Why do we read?  When it comes to fiction, it is most often to escape and live life vicariously through the characters for a bit.  These enigmatic women certainly give one a chance to forget your present woes and experience a whole new world.  Of course the good news is that we can all wake up again after the final page and return back to Earth where things make sense.  Sorta...

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Life in the Hood

Currently Reading: Triburbia

I'm sorry for the long hiatus between posts.  I have excuses such as business and a fancy new Wii, but still that is no excuse because I have continued to read as much as possible!!  Onto the tale...

There are countless novels out there about dissatisfied housewives and challenges faced by career women whose husbands just don't understand them and all that, but what about the dudes??  Triburbia brings us a series of tales revolving around a group of men who are connected only by the fact that their children attend the same elementary school in Tribeca.  Ranging from aspiring puppeteers to connected gangsters, this disparate group of husbands (or ex-husbands) share breakfast after the morning drop-off at least once a week.  While personal details are still kept close to the chest, these men find this regular gathering to be a calming source of continuity in their increasingly complicated lives.  One constant throughout the group though is that they each reached their prime in the nineties and now find themselves floundering in the changed world of the new millenium.  Where once nightclubs and sex ruled their minds, playground bullies and babysitting fees now clutter their thinking.  At once sad and hilarious  Triburbia is a compelling glimpse into the lives of typical dads.  Or at least the typical kind of dad who can be found in Tribeca.

The chapters are each titled by an address, the coveted spaces owned or occupied by the father whose viewpoint we get to experience.  Each of the the men's sections are interspersed between with chapters devoted to the occasional wife, daughter or even babysitter, but the entire novel is still driven by the dads.  This style makes the reading more suspenseful as we get to know each man from both the inside and an outsider's perspective.  Will he ever find out his wife is sleeping with the seedy producer?  Does the gangster's daughter ever stop getting bullied by the sound editor's eldest girl?

This novel, or really series of stories, manages to evoke a felling of neighborhood in a city whose size is almost unfathomable for those of us who reside outside it.  In fact, the burgs are so closely knit that as someone living in the burbs myself, I am in awe of how people so thoroughly identify with the place in which they reside.  While I know the old adage, never judge a book by its cover, I must admit that I did originally pick up Karl Taro Greenfeld's novel due to the inviting cover illustrated by Harry Campbell.  His comic-esce portrayal of the Tribeca neighborhood cleverly depicts scenes from within the jacket while still conjuring that overall city feel inherent in any book occurring in New York.  In this case, the cover will not fool, but actually add to the incredibly feelings derived from the reading.  Here's a peek.

Book Cover by Harry Campbell from his site

So until next time, happy reading!!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Roleplaying

Currently Reading: Sutton

Pg 119: "Everything in life is a safe, he thinks.  His parents, his brothers, Mr. Endner - if only he'd known the combination."

Pg 238: "It's people I have trouble believing in."

Willie "The Actor" Sutton is released from prison on Christmas eve in 1969.  Having spent the past couple of decades incarcerated, Willie finds himself in a world fully different on the exterior, but hauntingly familiar when it comes to people and their motives.  Sutton follows along with Willie and a reporter as they retrace his life from beginning to end and gives a unique perspective on the man behind the legend.

Sutton is written alternatively in the past and present, providing haunting glimpses into Willie's mind while conveying his poor health and regret in his present state.  The format is an incredibly powerful way emerge readers into the story, one which I thoroughly enjoy.  A fun little twist is that often times the reader ends up knowing more behing each stop on the "tour" than the reporter himself.  Willie can be miserly when it comes to giving up his secrets.  He comes across as a likable guy, one you wouldn't mind having a beer with as you shoot the breeze in a neighborhood bar.  How can he be bad?  Why on Earth was he locked up for so long?  Who could blame him for doing the things he did?

J.R. Moehringer has clearly done his research and the story is remarkably believable.  I even checked up with some of the facts.  Yep.  He is solid.  But of course, one needs to take a step back and remember that even though based in fact, Sutton is still a work of fiction.  A story created in the mind of someone other than the main character himself.

While I try to read nonfiction in addition to the plethora of fictional tales I consume, there is always that draw back towards the make-believe.  It's one of the reasons I enjoy historical fiction (and even some hard science fiction) so much.  It is based ever so loosely on fact, but the story is still engaging and thought provoking.  You are given the chance to live another life as in any novel, yet the concreteness of the characters provides you with a foundation from which to imagine their experiences.  Only a few nonfiction authors have ever truly entertained and intrigued me as much.  Part of me feels embarrassed by my lack of passion for the real, but why do we read in the first place?  To escape!  Just like going to the movies or attending the opera, novels allow one the chance to live another life.  One oh so cleverly conveyed by artists and masters of their field.

I think that will be all for now.  I am not quite finished with the book and am anxious to follow the final leg of their journey of remembrance.  This is one book club meeting I am definitely looking forward too!!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Perfect Fit

Currently Reading: Insurgent

I was oh so excited the other day when I finally received this latest installment in the Divergent trilogy and was eager to get started reading.  Thankfully enough, unlike many series, this one just got better with time.  The main characters are ever evolving in robust ways and the plot remains engaging.  One of the things I dislike about all these series though is that I have to wait so long for the next one!

This weekend I also had on hand the last of the Matched series.  This one is not quite the same as Divergent, but still involves a dystopian future with young adults as the main characters.  The story ended mostly how I expected, with a few twists here and there, giving readers a unique perspective on the role of government in their lives.

So with these two books on my mind, it gets me thinking about the whole subject of series in writing.  What is so compelling about three books?  It seems that so many authors are churning out these trilogies these days and so it gets me thinking.  Is three the best number?  What about books with more?  Or even the rare case of a duo of novels involving the same characters, connected by a common plot.  With this in mind, I reached back into the caverns of my mind and revisited some of the series I have read and whether or not their length (in terms of number of books) had much to do with why I did or did not enjoy them.

So let's start with series that are more than three.  Harry Potter is of course the first one that comes to mind.  For me, I also thought of several Star Wars series that involved many books.  I know you are all thinking that since they are Star Wars, they must all be one giant series, but that's not the case.  It is a giant series made up of many smaller groupings, and even some stand alones.  But I digress.  The Star Wars sets I am thinking of at the moment are the Fate of the Jedi and Legacy of the Force books, and of course the Yuuzhan Vong saga.  Also getting a nod in the > 3 category would have to be the Twilight books and of course, The Wheel of Time, Hitchhiker's, Dune and the Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clark.  What is it all these sets have in common?  They got predictable, the characters grew stale and by the time you were finally finished, your first though is "they could have done that with less books".  I will make an exception for Harry Potter though.  As she found her way as a writer, JK Rowling generally managed to step up her game with each installment.  Although you do have to admit, they could have been pared down a bit.  So conclusion, more than three is too much.  (Please don't hate me for a few of the examples above, yes Dune is awesome and so are the Space Odyssey books, but alas, they did get a bit long...)

Now onto those duos we find (albeit few and far between).  This gets a bit tricky, but the Hand of Thrawn duo is one of a few Star Wars sets and of course Winnie-the-Pooh and Bridget Jones are another pair of pairs.  And to be honest, I can't really think of too many more than that.  Even when doing some searching on the internets, all I can find are some odd fantasy sets and other not so intriguing tales.  I guess the lack of evidence can be seen as telling.  They are too short and really don't do the job in terms of giving us a story and set of characters that will last overtime.  In fact, while the set itself might be good, you still can't help but think that they could have spared some details and gotten it done in one book.  Oh!  I just thought of a good counterexample (because no one wants to read a 2000 page tome), The Pillars of the Earth.  Still though, I think that may be an outlier.

Yep.  Three seems to be the perfect number.  Think of all the great trilogies out there.  Recently, The Hunger Games, reaching into the Star Wars universe you get Heir to the Empire, The Jedi Academy and The Bounty Hunter Wars.  Then there are the Lord of the Rings, the Foundation Trilogy and the Millenium series (The Girl Who...).  I could go on, but know you all have lots to do so will conclude with the fact that well, three just seems to work.  Not too big.  Not too small.  Just right.  You get to know the characters without getting annoyed by them and the plot is robust enough to stand for the published set without needing to be drawn out any longer.

I'd love to hear of some series I missed (because I know I missed a lot) in the comments section as well as any counter arguments you have for my musings.  I will make one addition to my thinking though, there are a few sets of four that have managed to be quite awesome too.  The Rama series and Ender's books.  OK.  I'm going to stop looking now because I keep coming up with more and more sets of books I have read and it is getting a bit daunting.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Silver Linings

Currently Reading: One Last Thing Before I Go

Pg 90:
1. Be a better father.
2. Be a better man.
3. Fall in love.
4. Die

Pg 131: "Everybody dies alone.  That's a fact.  Some more alone than others."

What would you do if you knew you were going to die?  I don't mean ever.  Everyone dies at some point.  The question is more about what things you would make sure to complete if you knew death was knocking at your door.  The above is the humble to-do list of Drew Silver, the lamentable hero of Jonathan Tropper's latest morose yet humorous tale.

Silver, as he is know, is an aging rock star drummer, sadly past his prime and slowly making his way through life playing a few gigs here and there in order to pay his bill at the long term rental hotel he calls home.  Divorced and miserable, Silver spends his days with the other down and out men who have also been cast out or cast aside.

As if his life couldn't get any worse, Silver passes out in the waiting room of an abortion clinic and wakes up in a hospital where he is told he has a life threatening hole in his heart which will kill him if he does not have surgery soon.  With an ex-wife soon to be married and a daughter who, note the location of his incident, certainly has problems of her own, Silver thinks bowing out of life gracefully might be the best bet.  He escapes from the hospital and stumbles along a journey of self-pity and resignation.  In the end, Silver discovers that life really might be worth a second try and manages to accomplish a fair bit of his list.

One Last Thing Before I Go showcases Tropper's ability to display even the most ignoble of characters in an empathetic light, tossing in the occasional rabbi and bar mitzvah bash.  As with many Tropper novels, the characters are engaging, the story common yet surprising and personal revelations are abound.  I have been slowly working through his creations over the past several years and am never disappointed.  It's thanks to a former student of mine that I even stumbled upon him in the first place, and for her recommendation, I am forever grateful.

So speaking of gratitude and all that, let's get back to my original question.  What would you do if you knew the end was near?  Not in terms of a bucket list.  That implies lots of time and fantastic adventures.  This is more about a list like Silver's.  What are those little things that need to be done before you depart from the world?  What is it you want to be remembered for?  It is definitely a loaded task, but worth a bit of pondering.  I think my list would follow some of Silver's choices.  Be a better daughter.  Be a better person.  Be happy (or at least content).  That's at least a start.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who Are I?

Currently Reading: The Rapture of the Nerds

Pg 103: "She might actually be a communicant, he realizes with absolute horror.  She might actually have a Facebook account!  She's mad enough...  These days, tales of what Facebook did with its users during the singularity are commonly used to scare naughty children in Whales."

First, how could I resist the title.  Then, to my immense pleasure, I noted the authors, Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross.  Needless to say, I was hooked.  The Rapture of the Nerds manages to combine features of both writers into a seamless tale of chaos and insanity.  Imagine, Stross' penchant for biological fiddling, disembodiment and a completely invented vocabulary mixed with Doctorow's social commentary and totally on point predictions of the near future, not to mention "tech speak".  Totally mind-boggling.  I mean, who but these two could manage to create a world with multiple iterations of a person, one of which may at some point have to navigate his way to Glory City, South Carolina where the John the Baptist Museum of Godless Evolution contains the Steven Jay Gould Lies and Blasphemy exhibit?  Craziness.  In fact, too crazy for me to even properly outline here so instead I will pontificate on other things.

Co-authoring is something that totally intrigues me.  I have read several such penned tales and still have troubles distinguishing between which parts were written by whom.  I wonder how they do it?  Do you pass the story back and forth or is it a joint thing?  Does one person write something and then the other add their own bits to that section?  I'm sure much planning is involved and it almost seems more challenging than just simply writing something on your own.

Also, how do you decide who gets their name listed first?  Is it alphabetical or perhaps done by age or who is the most famous?  Again, I am at a loss.  For this one, it is listed alphabetically, but I don't know if that was the exact reasoning.  Both are accomplished writers in their own right to be sure.  Maybe a coin toss is involved...  Pick a number between one and ten...  Or maybe it was decided by who has the most hair :P

Anyways, I am happy that these two awesome dudes decided to hook up and give the world a taste of their combined awesomeness.  Below is a fun reading that they did at MakeBot.  It's certainly worth a look, but be forewarned, you will be coveting one of the souvenirs!!



Saturday, November 17, 2012

Greetings From the Road

Currently Reading: Broken Harbor

I have several tendencies and quirks that make me a bit of the odd man out.  I won't get into the myriad of maladies  but anyways, one of which is that I really don't like to travel much.  So here I am in Boston for work and low and behold!  I find a silver lining!  Flying all the way here from Dallas gave me time to almost complete Broken Harbor, the latest thriller by Tana French.  Hooray for travelling!  (Occasionally...)

In the novel, we are again transported to Ireland and follow along on a murder investigation with the detective in charge, Mick Kennedy.  I know what you are thinking, not again!  I'm not going to try to convince you that French completely surprises us, but still, it was a remarkably compelling and exciting read.

This time, Kennedy is paired with a rookie who, while a bit in awe of his mentor, does not allow his idol to make any mistakes.  Kennedy immediately hones in on a suspect and the reader is left wondering why there are still hundreds of pages to go.  Don't worry though, Tana French makes sure to keep you entertained.  The main characters are enigmatic and the murder itself couldn't be more intriguing.  French coveys aspects of the key players from so many different angles that you end up feeling like you never knew them at all.  Pat, one of the main characters, comes of as lamentable, psychotic, and affable all at once depending on whose mind you are in at the time.  Very cool.

I have been reading mysteries for as long as I can remember and never cease to get wrapped up in the thrill of the chase.  Maybe it comes from my love of puzzles and brain teasers.  It is always so exciting to find a solution.  That's one of the reasons I love math so much too.  What is so awesome about French's novels though is that she manages to keep you thinking up until the very end while avoiding getting formulaic or relying on trite techniques.  I'll admit to reading my fair share of the "big name" authors who continually fill the shelves with hardcovers relating the same old story, but have to say that they have slowly lost their ability to keep me engaged.  I am happy to say though, that Broken Harbor will help make even the longest plane ride go by in the blink of a eye.

Oh and before you give me a hard time about blogging while I should be working, the conference has let out for the day and I have a bit of time before heading out again.  Besides, it has been way too long since my last post and I knew you all were on the edge of your seats, eagerly awaiting the next one :P

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Unions and Intersections

Currently Reading: The Genesis Code

So I am constantly amazed by the ubiquitousness of math.  No.  I take that back.  I am not amazed, but rather gratified.  As a math teacher, I find myself constantly having to defend the need for understanding this ever important language to students.  And yes, it is a language in and of itself.  Not because of all the x’s and y’s prevalent in most people’s nightmares of Algebra, but because it is the common denominator (pun totally intended) across all civilizations throughout the ages.  Think about it.  Citizens of any country can communicate with numbers and a set of symbols meaning the same things regardless of what their native language is.  It is truly awesome.


The novel referenced in my currently reading line is not really a challenging or complex tale.  It is really just another of those Dan Brown or James Rollins type adventures where archeology meets scientific conundrums, but what is sticking with me the most is that math plays such a large and realistic role even in this commonplace genre.  I’m glad that authors are reaching out and giving everyone a glimpse at the wonders of math.  Who’d have thunk that the golden ratio could help solve the secrets of our DNA?  Well of course us geeky math folks could.  It is the underlying principle of loads of natural phenomena!  Now don’t get me started on the power of e...


Prior to this book, I read The Infinite Tides, yet another math-loving story.  This one has a tad bit more literary merit, but again, math is a dominant theme.  The Infinite Tides share the sad journey of an astronaut who loses his daughter in a car accident while onboard the International Space Station.  Through the time between his finally reaching Earth again and going through the acclimation process back to standard gravity, the main character ends up losing his wife as well.  Not to death, but though divorce.  He flounders his way through coming home and finding his identity again.  One thing that he has always clung to is his affinity for numbers and all types of math.  As he reflects back upon his times with his daughter, their shared gift for the world of mathematics brings him both joy and sorrow.  Again, math pops up when you’d least expect it.


I find it incredibly intriguing that two seemingly different hobbies of mine, mathematics and literature, keep crossing paths, intersecting beautifully and allowing me to have some incredible experiences.  It makes me glad to see these “English-types” embracing the often deemed scary world of math.  All too often we end up labeling ourselves as English/history people or math/science nerds, but applying those labels limits us all.  What’s wrong with loving the arithmetic patterns in poetry or seeing the historical aspects of scientific advancement?  It’s all true so why avoid it because of some arbitrary label applied at some long lost point in your schooling.  I say we ought to embrace all the disciplines and love them each for not only what they bring to the table individually, but for the power they display in their overlapping themes.  This calls for a Venn diagram!!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Yarg Maties

Currently Reading: Pirate Cinema

Pg 31: "If you want to double your success rate, triple your failure rate."

Pg 75: "All my life, my teachers had been on me to take notes, but this was the first time I ever saw the point.  I decided to do this more often.  Who knew teachers were so clever?"

So I am into this new career experience and can't help but now see everything in a different light.  Almost all the things I come into contact with these days is viewed with the whole idea of problem/challenge based learning in mind.  That's why I liked the first quote.  Failures are something we experience each and every day, but it is really what you take away from each failure that makes a difference.  They are all learning experiences.  And there you see why I like the second quote :)

Where I have been having some tension though comes from the definition of creativity.  What does it mean to be creative?  It seems like it has always had a certain connotation that lends itself to mostly artistic avenues, but as a mathy type person, this always bothered me.  Can't I be creative in a different way?  What if I don't want to write the next great American novel or paint some crazy picture?  Can I still be creative?  In my opinion, yes.  So this lead to some investigation on my part into how people define the term "creativity" and the act of being "creative".  What I found were lots of uses of the word with very little explanation as to what the users meant when they touted their exemplification of it.  Well, low and behold, Cory Doctorow has managed to help give me a new appreciation for such a controversial word.

Pirate Cinema is really just about that, pirating copies of videos and movies already made by someone else.  The main character in the novel, Cecil, is a filmmaker  but has never actually shot his own scenes.    What he does is take clips from other movies and put them together in such a precise way that they create new videos, following completely unique plots and characters.  Of course Big Brother doesn't like this and he eventually finds himself in hot water legally speaking.  Embroiled by the idea of speaking out for his art, Cecil himself says:

Pg 206: "But if we're being honest, it's easy to define creativity: it's doing something that isn't obvious.... It was doing something that didn't exist until I made it, and probably wouldn't have existed unless I did.  That's what 'to create' means: to make something new."

I thought this was an awesome way to thing about creativity.  Through all the aforementioned investigation, I was coming to the idea of creating being similar to making.  The Maker movement has been catching on with lots of folks these days.  I'm sure you all know a bit about it from my previous post so I won't go into too much detail now, but still, it is an awesome revolution taking place in our society.

While arguing with his friends and fellow pirates, Cecil is exposed to other people's viewpoints on creativity.  In fact it is his little sister who shares this gem:

Pg 208: "Everyone wants a definition of creativity that makes what they do into something special and what everyone else does into nothing special.  But the fact is, we're all creative.  We come up with weird and interesting ideas all the time.  The biggest difference between 'creators' isn't their imagination - it's how hard they work.  Ideas are easy.  Doing stuff is hard."

See!  I am not the only one who wants a definition !  Although, I must say, Cora states it quite nicely and instead of giving me the formal answer, she simply opens my eyes to a new way of thinking about the concept overall.  Obviously more pondering is needed on my part, but I feel like I am making some headway into the whole thing.

In the end, Cecil too changes his view towards creativity and becomes even more open-minded about it all.  Still, there are those others who need more convincing, and so he invokes a call to arms:

Pg 292: "Maybe from now on, creativity means combining two things in a way that no one has ever thought of combining them before... I think that a law that protects creativity should protect all creativity, not just the kind of creativity that was successful fifty years ago."

This is clearly a subject that is near and dear to Cory Doctorow's heart and anyone who has been following his work for the past several years, knows that he has been making some headway in the issue of publication rights.  He has championed the movement and is a big fan or organizations such as Creative Commons.  Many of his works are also available free of change on the internet.  The legal system is still not fully on board with the idea, but with backers as passionate as Doctorow, the future is bright for creativity of all types.

Now I still don't have my formal definition and of course that still bothers my left braininess, but I am at least a bit more satisfied with how I think about creativity as a whole.  Of course this book gave me lots to ponder on in this area it also provided something else for me to think on.  This book is dedicated to Walt Disney.  Now there was a shocker!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Quest for Absolution

Currently Reading: The Good Father

Pg 40: "In medicine you have to look past the easy assumptions.  The facts can be misleading.  There is a tendency to recognize only the symptoms that add up to the diagnosis in your head, but it is the symptom that doesn't fit you should be following."

Sometimes I wish I were awesome enough to have authors ask me to right a blurb for their book.  If Noah Hawley had approached me with this task, among the words I would give him would be haunting, compelling and all too real.  The Good Father follows the story of a man who is trying to be just that, a good father to his wayward son.  The problem is that he is too late.  Dr. Paul Allen's son Danny is arrested for killing a presidential candidate by shooting him in a packed auditorium.  Paul decides that Danny has been wrongfully accused and sets out to prove it.  The story unfolds in an incredibly readable fashion.  As the narrator is a doctor, his thoughts and actions all mirror those he goes through when diagnosing a patient.  He looks at the facts, follows them to their origin and thoughtfully considers their implications.  This seems like a great method, but he is stymied by the fact that this was a senseless act.  He simply cannot comprehend the reasoning behind Danny's actions.

Pg 148: "... Danny realized that everything in Texas either said Texas on it or was in the shape of Texas.  Place mats, road signs, security gates.  It was as if residents were worried they might wake up in New Jersey if they didn't surround themselves with reminders."

Throughout the novel, we follow Paul following Danny's trail across the country as well as back in time.  Danny had dropped out of school and from there he simply roamed about, stopping at places that felt "right" to him as well as a few he had heard of from former friends.  Texas plays a large role in the story as it is the location where Danny makes his pivotal discussion, partly motivated by what he learns of the events at the UT clock tower.  While Danny comes into contact only with this one lone gunman, Paul finds himself drawn towards to the tales of many other past assassins therefore exposing the reader not only to varying landscapes, but to the minds and actions of other impassioned killers.  Paul's issue though is that he just doesn't see his son in the stories of these strange and frightening men.

Pg 185: "I don't really like to talk about myself.  I guess that's a big part of friendship, but I just don't like telling people how I feel about something, or what I think.  I think most of the time people say stuff just to hear themselves talk ... I just think you learn more by listening that you do by talking."

A reason behind Paul's lack of revelations is that he just didn't know his son anymore.  Danny grew up in a house divided.  His parents divorced when he was merely eight and his father, Paul, remarried and had two other sons.  Danny found himself unanchored and misplaced.  Neither of his parents seemed to notice.  He appears to be OK on the surface, but due to a life-altering experience on a flight between his parents, Danny finds himself feeling like he caught a break he didn't deserve and slowly moves through life trying to find a purpose.  Unfortunately, that purpose leads to a sad end.

Pg 207: "America was a country that believed that crime was who a person was, not just what they did.  In this light there could be no such thing as rehabilitation, only punishment."

Danny pleads guilty, much to his father's dismay, and refuses any help in terms of appeals or a sentence reduction.  He is slated for execution, labeled as a terrorist and housed in a solitary cell amid hundreds of other "evil doers".  For Paul, this is his last chance for redemption, both for his son and for himself as a father.  He eventually goes for broke and ends up precariously close to losing his second family as well.

Pg 280: "Even if he was a pawn, a pawn is still playing the game ... You can't make a good person do bad things.  You can't change who they are fundamentally in the time it takes to eat a sandwich.  That's science fiction.  The only thing that can change who we are is life."

Paul's final attempt at exonerating his son revolves around a pair of ex-military men with whom Danny crossed paths on a lonely midnight train ride.  Despite countless hours of effort, this path does not pan out and Paul is finally faced with the truth, his son killed a man in cold blood.  There is no other way around the truth.

The Good Father is a remarkable glimpse into the mind of a man driven by the purest of aims, to help his son.  I found myself unable to put it down, anxiously turning pages in search of the next revelation.  While the main story seems to be about Danny and his plight for belonging, it is really about a man and what he can become when faced with the unthinkable.  If you are looking for a memorable tale of love, loss and a remarkable journey of self-discovery, I highly recommend this book.  Yes, you will feel some sadness, but in the end, you can't help but feel drawn into the power of parenthood.  It makes me appreciate yet awed by everything parents do for their children.  I cannot even imagine what Paul experienced, but am thankful to Noah Hawley for giving me at least a taste.

Now if you are feeling down after finishing The Good Father, do not fear!  I do have a couple hilarious recommendations for a pick me up.  Where'd You Go Bernadette and Lucky Bastards are two excellent choices filled with ridiculous situations and larger than life characters that will change your tears from ones of grief to ones of laugher.  And on that note, enjoy your reading!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

For The Win

Currently Reading: Gold

Chris Cleave is an author that has been on the bestsellers lists for several years now, but this is the first one of his that I have read and I am oh so glad I did.  Gold follows two women as they attempt to navigate life while at the same time training for competitive cycling.  It provides an insider's perspective into this fairly unknown sport, at least unknown to the general world of sports fans.  Kate and Zoe have been friends and competitors since they were 19 and now, at the ripe old age of 32, find themselves closing in on their last chance to go for the gold at the London summer games, an event close to their hearts as they are British citizens themselves.  As readers, we not only follow the exhaustive training schedule, but are immersed in their complex and emotional personal lives as well.  Cleave does a masterful job of relating this tale from the female perspective, making you empathize completely with these two very different athletes.

This story takes place over the course of a few months, but the reader is transported back through an impressive use of flashbacks and dreams.  You slowly gain a glimpse at what makes these two women tick, what events from their past have influenced their decisions today.  Through these journeys back in time, Cleave ever so carefully plants clues that eventually all come together at the end, leading to a whole new plot twist one might not have anticipated.  I know I was shocked at several revelations.

One of the most interesting things about the story is the dichotomy between Kate and Zoe.  Despite their being friends, they have very little in common and are two very different people, motivated by completely opposite desires.  Kate comes across as the more empathetic yet likable of the women.  Zoe is brash, unapologetic and downright scary at times.  And still, you can't help but at least sympathize with her.  As you become more intrigued with her backstory, Kate's desire to help her friend is increasingly apparent.

There are three other characters in this novel, each of whom have their own relationship with Kate and Zoe.  Their coach Tom, Jack the husband of Kate and Sophie, their young daughter, each play important roles in the plot.  Part of what makes Gold so powerful is that these five people rely upon each other so much and add to the story in enormous ways that there is no need for any auxiliary characters.  The small cast helps hone the action to create an intimate group which one feels privileged to be a part of.

Obviously, most of the novel revolves around racing.  I enjoyed getting to learn more about this extremely competitive sport, relating to bits of it, but awed by the dedication required to be a member of the cycling community.  The entire story itself contains many of the same features of a race.  Your heart will race at certain points, be given a bit of rest time in between, and then peak up to incredible heights as the plot unfolds.  Minute details such as diet, sleep patterns, and even the equipment help to transport us into the velodrome and become participants in the race.

Ultimately the main question raised by Gold is this, how much are you willing to sacrifice in order to win?  For each person, that answer is different and changes as they grow not only in age, but in character as well.  Really, the race itself can be replaced by any obsession in life.  Ask yourself the same question each and every day, but be sure of your answer.  It may not be worth the pain.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

3-2-1...Go!

Currently Reading: Ready Player One

Only a few books have ever inspired me devote an entire day to their reading.  Notable ones include Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows and Revenge of the Sith (they release the novel before the movies).  These were both ones I waited in line for at midnight and then devoured until the last page.  Now I have another one to add to that list.  Of course I didn't pick up Ready Player One on the first day, but I literally spent my whole day yesterday eagerly turning the pages in anticipation of what came next.  Ernest Cline manages to do something quite remarkable, completely transport the reader into his fictional world which happens to revolve around a young man entirely transported into another fictional land.  As the tale transpired, I felt as if I was part of the action every step of the way however, I'm not sure this would be the case for everyone who picks up this book.

You may have noticed that I didn't start with a quote on this post as I do in most of my others.  The reason is that I seriously wanted to just quote the entire thing.  Ready Player One embraces a culture that for many years has been shunted aside, accepted only by the few brave enough to be true to themselves.  Or maybe that isn't the best way to term it, at least not for one outside this group because this culture is one filled mostly with misfits and dorks.  Those mocked at by the "popular" kids at school.  Yep.  I'm talking about geeks.  So why was I able to be so engrossed in the tale?  Well because I myself have been a geek forever.  Being able to recognize lines from sci-fi movies, pseudonyms from comic books and landscapes from video games has not always been an applauded asset, but it seems as though times are changing.  More and more, people are acknowledging their inner geek and getting on board with us.  The eye rolls have abated at least...

I think that part of what is causing geekiness to permeate more sectors of the prevalent culture is the expansion of the internet and all the things it allows people to experience.  Tech-savviness is no longer for the few, but required for all.  Who doesn't have some sort of avatar out there?  The online presence that they use to interact with others has become people's main face to the outside world, be this a good thing or not.

Ready Player One follows Wade AKA Parzival as he attempts to discover an easter egg hidden in his favorite MMO, OASIS.  OASIS is not mealy a virtual world for killing orcs and leveling up.  It has been embraced by all from the biggest corporations on down.  Almost all of the world's financial and social transactions occur on the network.  The easter egg actually allows its possessor to become the heir to the fortune left by the late creator of OASIS, an extremely wealthily yet lonely programmer and king amongst geeks.  As Z continues along his quest, he meets new friends, faces evil foes and eventually gains more than just his name on the list of high scores.  Yes, the end is a bit trite, but the journey is really what was important.

The secrets to unlocking the egg come through extensive knowledge of geek culture from the eighties on.  I couldn't help but be familiar with it all, and actually a bit of an expert at most.  It was amazing to get to journey through a world filled with my personal loves.  I was not reading it as an outsider, but truly a member of the community in which Z lived.  So that's really why I loved this book so much, I guess.  I felt like I belonged and longed to tell Wade that he too, was awesome and that there are those out there who understand where he is coming from.  I get you dude!

I'm having a hard time figuring out how to close this post, but I will leave you with this little nugget.  The entire time I was reading this book, a soundtrack a bit like this was running through my head.  It gives you all a bit of a glimpse of what the action entailed :)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

It's the Little Things

Currently Reading: The Age of Miracles

Pg 96: "Even beauty, in abundance, turns creepy."

Pg 266: "It still amazes me how little we really knew."

The universe is truly an awesome thing.  It is astonishing how so many little things work together in harmony to keep everything working.  One feature out of place and the world as we know it suddenly changes.  In The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker allows us the opportunity to follow along with Julia as she finds her way in an frighteningly changed world.  The Earth's rate of rotation has slowed.  That's it.  No one knows why.  There wasn't an asteroid collision or other astronomical disaster.  They just woke up one day only to find that what was a "day" had suddenly changed.  People take this news in different ways.  Some commit suicide, convinced that the apocalypse is upon us.  Others, such as Julia's father, treat life as the same, going to work and carrying out their daily routines.

As the rotation continues to slow, day becomes night and nature cannot keep up.  By the end of Julia's tale, the sun stays in the sky for hours upon hours, causing harm to people exposed to its rays.  Once it finally sets, crops are forced to deal with incredibly low temperatures and eventually, it becomes impossible to grow crops without synthetic aid.  The world's governments attempt to convince people to continue to follow the standard 24 hour day despite what it looks like outside.  Most agree, with a few discenters.  These folks create their own communities, but eventually, even humans are unable to adapt to a new timeline.

The Age of Miracles gives readers an interesting perspective on this phenomenon.  Julia's daily life is undoubtably different from that of an adult, free of many practical worries and frets.  Still, this outsider's view is almost more powerful because it is questioning and adaptable.  Why are authority figures making these decisions?  I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel and marveled at Walker's ability to get out of the gate so quickly.  This is her first novel and was written while working her normal nine to five job.

The book makes one pause and consider the wonderment of the world around us.  How much we take for granted!  Things that never cross your mind throughout the course of a day are so powerful in creating the harmony required to keep us going.  I find myself even looking closer at the biological interrelationships necessary for life.  Each day, scientists learn more about what makes life possible for us and what makes the universe what it is.  I am envious of those making these discoveries and grateful for their effort in keeping us laymen in the know.  If nothing else, it makes me more cognizant of each and every moment because who knows when one little thing will slip out of place, causing it all to unravel.  Hopefully the world will keep on turning.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mickey Is A Stooge

Currently Reading: Makers (or Why Cory Doctorow Hates Disney)

Pg 89: "Deciding what to make is always harder than making it."

That alternate title was totally given by me, not anything provided by the author, but I think it fits.  Anyways, onto the story, which is amazing by the way.  As with all Doctorow works, the reader is constantly bombarded by ideas that seem oh so novel at first and yet also quite obvious.  All his arguments make complete sense.  Cory Doctorow is definitely a man for the people.  His main projects tend to focus around the idea of common property and those who have innovative ideas but are constantly thwarted by "the man".  In Makers, Lester and Perry are two out of work engineers who simply want to make things to share.  Profit is not their motive.  "Coolness" seems to be their underlying goal.  Why not make a mechanical calculator that takes inputs like disembodied Barbie heads and creates an output of brown M&Ms?  Come on guys!  It's cool!  In fact, their inventions prove to be so cool that they are suddenly famous and find themselves overrun with fans.  This new status quickly brings their creations to the attention of those wanting to make money and the game begins.

What is abundantly clear throughout the whole book is that Lester and Perry simply want to make things and share those things with whomever wants it.  They also don't mind people piggy-backing on their ideas and taking them in a new direction.  This does not bode well at their neighboring creation station, Disney World.  It's funny because when you first think about Disney, what comes to mind are all the awesome advancements they have made in the world of animation.  Unfortunately, from Doctorow's perspective, they are also very protective of their achievements and don't like to share.  "Borrowing" is acceptable, but only if they are the ones doing the borrowing.

This is a trend that we have seen a lot lately.  Technologies are advancing at such a fast pace that it is difficult to figure out who developed what first.  I'm sure a recent court case comes to mind for most of you.  In Lester, Perry and the author's minds, there is not a need for someone to come out on top.  Ultimately, it ought to be the user who is the winner, not the faceless corporation.  It is the reason so many artists and creators have flocked to Creative Commons for licensing.  Remixing is a good thing!!  And when you come right down to it, doesn't everything come from something else?  There are very few completely original ideas any more.  You start with basic components that have already been made and then adapt them to suit your new need.  Apparently this is OK if you are starting with components you created yourself, but again, this leads to more issues.  How small do you have to get to find something you have completely made up yourself.  Someone had to figure out how to mold plastics and make microchips.

So back to the book.  I am not quite finished (it's only about 400 pages, but they are dense ones) and am enjoying it quite a bit.  Mostly because I am a geek and this stuff is right up my alley, but also because Cory Doctorow is such a good writer.  He manages to make outrageous yet lovable characters and while the world in which they live is bizarre at time, it is still a place you can picture in your head.  A place you could imagine yourself in one day and so are the situations.  Doctorow always address current issues that we can and should be thinking about each day.  These are things that affect each and every person's life, but things that many people don't realize or choose not to notice.  He is definitely one of my favorite writers.

I use the term writer and not novelist because Mr. Doctorow is not only a creator of fiction, but a fantastic journalist and nonfiction writer as well.  He is one of the editors for Boing Boing and I highly suggest taking a look at the site sometime.  You will be amazed by awesomeness.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Egresses

Currently Reading: The Portable Door

Pg 146: "Life at J.W. Wells & Co. might be deeply weird, but it was peanuts compared with the fathomless craziness of being human."

So about a quarter of the way through this book, I had my blog idea all decided.  I hadn't written in awhile and planned a posting that could encompass many of the books I had read since last I shared with you all.  The plan was this: talk about work.  All sorts of books revolve around the main character's job, often times focusing on how crappy it is.  So, hooray!  Initiate Plan A!  And then of course the portable door came into play and all my scheming fell to the wayside.

The Portable Door involves not so much everyday setbacks, but rather mystical and monstrous inanity because, unfortunately for our young hero Paul, J.W. Wells & Co. are actually a group of gremlins, warlocks, and dragon slayers.  Not necessarily my usual fair, but nevertheless, I persevered, hoping to find a gem or two along the way.  Alas, this was not the case.

Was the book bad?  I don't know, but I do know that it did not live up to the expectations arisen by the blurbs on the cover.  The basic story involves all the typical plot devices.  Paul needs a job so he goes out for an interview.  He meets a young lady who unfortunately does not return his affections.  He gets a job and though he has no idea what he actually does, he goes to the job day after day and is repeatedly faced with weird little happenings around the office.  Paul then finds out the true nature of the company, but due to the fact that the fine print of his contract says he cannot leave, he is left carrying out odd tasks all while figuring a way to get out of his predicament.  Chaos ensues.

Once reaching the back cover, I was left not so much unsatisfied due to the conclusion, but due to the meat of the novel.  Now don't get me wrong, a fluff book is always a fun little adventure, but I don't know if this was even fluff.  It seemed uninspired, trite, and a little boring at times.  Tom Holt has written several other works, but I have feeling that I will not be seeking them out.  Oh well, they can't all be winners I suppose.

I will leave you will a little joke from the book though.  Feel free to list your answers in the comments section.  This was my one take away from my reading.

"When is a door not a door?"  (Pg 242)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Remixing

Currently Reading: Shadow Show

The concept of remixing, hacking and simply straight up copying has been in the news a lot these days due to copyright lawsuits and all that.  It really is about taking something that has already been made and molding or adapting it to suit your needs.  Musicians make remixes of already produced songs, but make them their own through varying beats and altered lyrics.  Hacking in the technological sense often implied breaking into a piece of software code and altering it to perform some other function or work in a way best suited to their desired outcome.  This book can be described as a remix of sorts, at least that is my impression thus far.

Shadow Show is a collection of stories written by authors both famous and obscure, who were influenced in some way by the late, great Ray Bradbury.  Some of the tales feel eerily familiar to stories such as The Veldt, There Will Come Soft Rains and The Lake.  Others are so far removed in time and subject, yet still retain a connection to Bradbury's work.  I am enjoying revisiting his writing in this unique way and am awed by the influence he had on such household names as Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Audrey Niffenegger.  It makes me want to revisit these books which a scattered about my bookshelf.

One of the things I enjoy the most about each story is the afterward written by its author.  They speak a bit to not only their own story, but the unforgettable experience of encountering a Bradbury tale for the first time.  It's hard to believe that one man could be so influential to so many of these award winning authors, but there you have it.  I find myself relating to the feelings and inspiration related by all of them regardless of age, sex or nationality.

To get back to my original thought about "borrowing" and the like, this collection of stories includes several that are cleverly veiled remixes of Bradbury's own stories, not simply inspired by them.  So now onto the important question, is this wrong?  No one blatantly pawns off Something Wicked This Way Comes as their own, but follow the plot line and characters quite closely.  When is it no longer simply taking inspiration from, but rather copyright infringement on intellectual property?  It's a gray and murky area for sure.  Oftentimes you cannot move forward without climbing upon a foundation created by someone else.  Each iteration may be different, but bits and pieces stemmed from another person's work.  As technology continues to advance so rapidly, I have a feeling we will be seeing this issue arise more and more often.  And no, I don't know the answer.

What I can say, is that I am very glad for this collection of remixes because they not only pay hommage to an amazing artist, but they bring me back to my own experiences with the original novels and stories and I can derive pleasure from them once again.

I was quite excited to discover this book now as this video had recently been shared with me.  It highlights some of the extraordinary remixes that have been influential in their own right.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Decisions, decisions

Currently Reading: Divergent

There seems to be a trend these days in young adult literature.  More and more, science fiction type stories with a female protagonist are appearing on bookshelves and Kindle libraries.  Divergent is yet another of these.  Now don't get me wrong, I am loving this theme of girls kicking butt in the possible near future, but one of the things that is bugging me is that they are all series.  This sucks for someone who reads as much as me because I'm always left waiting.  Yes, some may argue that's a good thing and all that, but seriously, does it always have to be a trilogy?  Thank goodness for my friendly school librarian or I'd be broke!!

So back to the actual story.  Divergent takes place sometime in the future (no actual date is given) around the Chicago area.  It has been decided that what makes countries or divisions of people go to war with each other is not differences of race, religion or politics, but actually disparities between their human dispositions.  Therefore, the population has been divided into five main factions: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful) and Erudite (the intelligent).  Each group lives by their decided virtue and provides a particular service to the community as a whole.  The Dauntless provide protection for the city, the Amity fill roles such as doctors and nurses, the Abnegation serve as selfless political leaders and so on.  Children are raised by their families in their faction, but attend school together.  At the age of 16, they undergo a test that helps figure out where they fit the best and then they decide where they want to continue their lives.  Most often, students are either proven fit for the faction they are already a part of or given maybe one alternative.  Occasionally though, one is labeled as Divergent.  This means they define characteristics of many factions, making it hard to pinpoint where they belong.

Beatrice, the story's heroine, is Divergent.  Having grown up with Abnegation as her family, Beatrice decides to join the Dauntless (ironically enough, a very brave choice).  Her initiation is harsh, but through it, Beatrice, now calling herself Tris, finds friends, love and a new viewpoint on life.  What she does not find though is a sense of belonging, something she so desperately desires.  As a Divergent, Tris finds her thoughts varying based on the situation at hand and cannot fathom being forced to live life by a particular set of norms.

At the same time Tris is processing through her initiation, certain factions are starting to plot against each other, proving once again that peaceful harmony between people cannot be forced.  At the end of this book, Erudite launches their attach against Abnegation using Dauntless members as unknowing pawns in their army.  Luckily enough, the mind control does not work on the Divergent so Tris and her fellow Divergent friend Four (aka Tobias) find themselves hunted, no longer belonging to any faction.  To be factionless is the worst thing anyone can imagine.

So now you see why I am miffed about the whole series thing.  I need to know what happens next!!!  I'm sure as you were reading this synopsis you were thinking about how much of it parallels The Hunger Games or even the Matched books.  And of course, you are right.  The idea of certain groups being labeled and segregated is in both series as well as the idea of using complex personality tests in order to determine where one belongs.  What makes this series different though is the idea of choice.  Yes, individuals begin life in a certain faction, but at some point, their future becomes up to them.  I am intrigued by this idea and appreciate its inclusion in this new and upcoming genre.  As a reader, we are given a glimpse of why Tris and others made their decisions and this inner dialogue helps make the characters more authentic.  I also found myself wondering what choice I would make.  It reminds be a bit of those personality tests about what color you are or what animal you would be represented by.  The thing I don't like about them is that while there is almost always a group you show the most affinity for, you often embody a few characteristics of the other groups as well.  How nice that we are able to live in a society where we can be Divergent.  Still, it raises some interesting questions.  Which faction do you think you belong in?  What about the rest of your family?  Would you sacrifice live with your loved ones in order to "fit in"?  Something to ponder as you read this tale and even after.  I am still wondering about it even now.

Oh and yes, I did change the blog design.  This one seems a bit more easy on the eyes :)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Perfecting Prestidigitation (or at least attempting to)

Currently Reading: Fooling Houdini

Pg 9: "Like physics, magic is all about playing god with the universe."

Pg 98: "I think we totally discount the power of the mind."

While I had several more pages dog-eared, these two quotes seemed to best embody the main theme of this book.  When performing magic, it is more about perception and misdirection that about the physicality of the trick itself.  This actually makes it harder than it may seem to the layperson.  Sure, with practice, one can hone his skills to the point of being able to cut a deck perfectly or shuffle so precisely, but really, the biggest challenge comes from never letting these things take the full attention of the audience.  Making them feel astonished and amused takes another type of skill, one that is fully linked with the power of apprehension.

Alex Stone begins his tale by relating his humiliating defeat at the Magic Olympics.  This may seem odd and out of place.  Why would he start with failure and what would ultimately be the end of practicing magic for so many people?  Well because he realized that he had not truly appreciated the statements quoted above.  The actions and events that follow relate to the reader Alex's journey through honing his physical and mental prowess until he finally discovers what he was missing.  His own signature trick.  Something that embodied not only difficult maneuvers, but also gave the audience a glimpse at his true self.  A side note, Alex was working towards an upper degree in physics at the time. So you can only imagine my excitement when he discovers that mathematics held the key to imagining his ultimate trick.  The book's subtitle, Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks & the Hidden Powers of the Mind, was what actually made me consider it at all in the first place.  Hooray for my peeps showcasing the awesomeness of math!!

For my latest professional adventure, I had been tasked with reading a book about mindsets.  This refers to people being part of two groups, either a fixed mindset, meaning they think that intelligence and talent are innate and cannot be improved, and a growth mindset, meaning that a person embraces their flaws and always strives to become more proficient in any aspect of their life.  When reading this book, what struck me was Alex's tenacity.  He simply did not give up.  Even after being booed by his peers and at one point even on the brink of exile (yes, there are societies with cards and whatnot), Alex remained persistent and focused on his goal.  That goal was not really to "win", but rather to become better than he was.  Throughout Alex's journey of self-improvement, we are periodically given bits of information about the history of magic, magicians, and everything related.  Still, the story does not get bogged down with these facts.  Most of what Alex does is seek out those who are experts in their particular field and attempts to learn from them.  The tactile master in SanAntonio, the crotchety close up maestro who mentors Alex at the local pizza parlor and even those who run magic seminars and retreats.  All these people play a roll in Alex's eventual success.

I am not usually a fan of non-fiction, but when I like one, I tend to love it.  Now that I have had a chance to ponder on that, I realize that it is the use of a narrative that makes these books so intriguing.  We still have a hero to root for and a goal to be met.  Facts play their part, but the emotions and relationships are even more important.  I was rooting for Alex the entire time I was reading.  Not for the sake of "winning", but more because of his dedication and drive.  He was really quite inspiring not only to myself, but to others in the book as well.  One thing I loved the most was that due to his participation in a psychological study of perception and observation, he ended up inspiring a scientist to look into another sort of research, employing him as one of the parties delivering the sessions.

Congrats to Alex for not only mastering his "move", but for inspiring others and really proving that with persistence, we can achieve magical things.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Snubbed

Currently Reading: The Leftovers

I am actually feeling a bit leftover myself after completing this book, the latest novel by Tom Perrotta.  The Leftovers is the tale of those left behind after the "Sudden Disappearance".  People are unsure of what actually occurred, but one evening in October, hundreds of thousands of people simply disappeared.  There is talk of the rapture, but no, that can't have been the cause because all sort of pious and religious folks were not taken.  Not to mention the fact that those of other faiths actually did disappear.  A couple of major cults have formed, one of which is comprised mainly of people who are reeling from the loss of loved ones, the other mainly adherents of a misguided man who professes the ability to take over people's grief.  Needless to say, there is much confusion abound and people are willing to believe almost anything to make them feel better.

At the same time, there are those who are content with continuing life as it is, among those is Kevin Garvey, the recently elected mayor of a small town.  Kevin loses his wife to one of the cults despite the fact that none from their immediate family disappeared and their two children are alive and well.  We follow the story from his family's various perspectives.  From Kevin, we get the viewpoint of someone who is ready to be done with the moping and wanting to move on.  From Laurie, his distracted wife, we are able to get a glimpse into the inner workings of the Guilty Remnant cult.  Jill, the daughter, takes the reader along with her while she attempts to make her way through high school, directionless and impressionable.  Lastly, the son, Tom, has been hoodwinked into the secondary cult, mostly because he was disillusioned by college and can't find his place in the world.  Nora, a woman who lost not only her husband but her two children as well, brings in the viewpoint of someone not willing to let go, but not weak enough to fall prey to any bogus organization.

You would think that having all these unique perspectives would relate a dynamic and engaging story of life after the SD.  Alas, that is not really the case.  I find myself leaving the characters with even more questions than answers.  Not much is really resolved and I can't help but feel the characters didn't grow or change very much.  Maybe I was expecting too much.  I kept hoping for a breakthrough for at least one of them even into the last chapter and at first, it seemed like something would suddenly happen, but no.  There were no life-altering events or even a sudden change in feelings or emotions.  We are left at the end with a group of people very similar to the one we started with.  I even half expected all the disappeared people to return and again, I was disappointed.

Oh well.  They can not all be winners for every reader and maybe I just missed Perrotta's point.  Still, as Kevin would say, life goes on.  Now off to another story and another world.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thematic

Currently Reading: In One Person

Pg 362: "F---ing wrestlers!  ...  Just when you imagined they were finally talking about other things, they kept coming back to the frigging wrestling; they were all like that!"

Perhaps Mr. Irving is referring to himself in that quote?  I can't help but wait with eager anticipation anytime I read a novel by John Irving.  When will the wrestlers make their first appearance?  If you've ever read Waiting For Piggy Snead, you know that he speaks from experience when he refers to all things wrestling.  Irving puts so much of himself into an piece of work he is writing that they often read as autobiographies.  You truly believe these things actually happened and that these people are real.  This one is especially poignant as William "Bill" Abbott's childhood closely mirrors that of Irving himself.

Bill's actual father has run off and he is left to live with his mother and her extended family in First Sister, a town more known for its private all boys school, Favorite River.  A stranger comes to town and captures the heart of not only Bill's mother, but Bill himself and the rest of the family as well.  This man, Richard Abbott, adopts Bill as his own and begins to impart upon the community a great love for theater and literature.  Well, some of them take to it.  Now here is where the story strays from Irving's own experiences.  Not only is Bill's grandfather a fan of playing women's roles in the community theater, but the librarian is actually a transgender man posing as a woman and Bill himself is drawn towards homosexual tendencies and eventually classifies himself as a bisexual.

As with many of Irving's other stories, In One Person, gives a voice to those who are often ostracized by the community as a whole.  He gives these people a voice and allows the reader an opportunity to see what everyday life is like for them, not simply focusing on the bizarre and spectacular elements of Bill's life.  We follow Bill throughout most of his life, from pre-teen years through his sixties, getting glimpses at the relationships, friendships, and losses that he experiences.  Visions of the past continually pop up, regardless of what continent Bill is in and it seems he will never be able to cut them out completely and eventually succumbs, moving back to his childhood home and becoming a teacher at Favorite River himself.  But don't worry, Bill keeps his uniqueness throughout the tale and only becomes a teacher after being introduced to a precocious young student (who just happens to be George in the process of becoming Georgia).

One of the most moving chapters of this novel is entitled "A World of Epilogues".  This title comes from some insider knowledge earlier in the book (can anyone say Prospero?) and is about the eighties and early nineties when Bill loses many of his friends to AIDS.  Irving does a wonderful job of subtlety showcasing the wrongful accusations and mistreatment towards gay, lesbian, transgender, and other "sexual outsiders".  Why is it wrong to be who you are?

In this book, many of Irving's familiar themes continue.  There is a preoccupation with sexual exploration, the ever-present authority figures from youth pop up when you least expect them, and the main character is struggling with interpreting the loss of a parent.  Other commonalities are the fact that the main character is a writer, something that continually shapes his worldview, and of course, the main setting is New England where a far off war has undoubtedly changed someone's life forever.  I couldn't help but feel that this one seemed oh so similar to The World According to Garp.  Perhaps it was the wrestling or the private school setting.  Or maybe it was just the voice throughout the story, a lonely boy seeking his place in the world.  Regardless, as always, even though the generalities persist across novels, you can't help but be in awe each time you put down a John Irving tome.  They never cease to amaze and I promise, In One Person does as well.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Whoa...

Currently Reading: Gone Girl

This does not start with a quote because well, it seems as though nothing in this book represented anyone's true thoughts or perhaps all those thoughts were so true that they almost seemed false.  Don't get me wrong, this book was quite simply gripping.  From page 1 to page 415.  After I was finally able to put it down, I sat back and thought "SHITE!"  And that was it.

I really can't get into the nitty gritty here because there were so many twists and turns and unexpected events that telling even a bit of the story would be ruining it for all of you who are now going to go out and read this book.  And yes, that is an order.  I will give you this though, the story begins with Nick discovering that his wife is missing.  The house appears in disarray, the police are notified, and the hunt begins.  That is about as far as I can go without revealing anything in the story.  I heard of another reader who literally gasped out loud while reading this, Gillian Flynn's most terrifying novel.  Not terrifying so much in that it is grotesque or mortifying, but terrifying because it is all too believable.  At least from my humble perspective.

The planning and thought that must have occurred prior to writing this novel is mind-boggling.  Everything fits perfectly yet everything is a surprise.  I kept predicting things and then they would happen and then yet another twist would be thrown out.  It makes me pause to ponder the effort that truly great writers put into their works.  Sure there are loads of wannabes (for lack of a better term), but Ms. Flynn has now solidified her presence in the ranks of greatness.  Will this be a "classic"?  Probably not, but I don't think that is what readers are looking for these days.

What makes a book sellable?  Well I suppose that the characters play a large part in it.  We read loads of not very literary books because we care about the protagonist.  In Gone Girl, you really don't end up liking any of the characters, but they are compelling in a way that you want to find out what makes them tick.  How on Earth could Amy (the wife) have thought of all that?  Why did Nick do that thing with that girl in that bar?  Goodness.  I still don't have them figured out at this point and I doubt that I ever will.  Of course, I will still be thinking about them for some time despite having come to the conclusion of the tale.  Which leads me to the second thing a sellable book most likely has, stickiness.

The ability to stick with someone even after the thing is past is something that not only books can possess, but movies, paintings, and even just ideas can have this wonderful quality.  Maybe that is what those "classics" were all about.  Pride and Prejudice was an OK book, but the story of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett has been analyzed and aped for over a hundred years.  That underlying tale stuck with people just as many of Shakespeare's plays have stuck with people.  Stickiness is something that I have been thinking about a lot lately, but more in terms of ideas.  Still, I think it is applicable here as well.  Chip and Dan Heath have come up with a remarkably simple formula for creating ideas that stick.  Gone Girl demonstrates all of these and then some.

I suppose I could go on and on about the amazing qualities of this novel, but I am going to stop now because you all need to get started reading it.  I will add this little tipbit though.  Before I started to read Gone Girl, I had no idea what it was about.  In fact I only picked it up because it had been recommended to me by a fellow reader.  Then, once I finally got it from the ridiculously long wait list at the library, I was reluctant to begin.  Why?  Well I had some preconceived notions due to another Flynn book I had attempted to read and then stopped.  I decided to give it a try anyways, promising to put it down if I wasn't enjoying it.  As you can tell from the above, I never did put it down.  Another quality of a sellable book, it was engrossing and all the more so because I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  For those of you who would like a review actually based upon actions in the book, click here, but I warn you, it is all the better without any prior knowledge.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Swan Lake ... of Misery

Currently Reading: The Cranes Dance

Pg 23: "... I don't see how knowing why I have this fear will help stop it."

I must admit that I related to this quote oh so well.  I too have an issue (not the fear of something stabbing me in the eye like our protagonist, Kate), and despite delving into why it is there to begin with, I still have not fully dealt with it.  The reasons for this are many, but in this regard, I could certainly understand Kate's feelings.  So now I suppose you are wondering who Kate is and what this book is about, so I suppose I will let you in on the plot.

Kate is a ballerina.  Seriously.  She is employed by the New York Ballet and has worked her way up to soloist, but alas, her younger sister Gwen, has already been named a principle (something far better than soloist from what I have gathered).  The story takes place after Gwen has returned home due to a mental breakdown, but her presence is constant throughout the actions and behaviors demonstrated by Kate.  One thing that comes across clearly is that the author, Meg Howrey, was definitely a dancer herself.  The inner workings of the ballet company are exposed, although they are not the main feature of the story.  In the midst of all the olympic talk, I can't help but relate their lives to the lives of youg gymnasts.  Hard work, little reward, and constant self-degration seem to be the norm.

I am not going to rave on and on about this one as I have done for many of the previous posts.  This book was difficult to read.  Not the language really, but the emotional toll it takes on the reader is challenging to say the least.  I am thoroughly exhausted and not just due to the angst.  Kate and Gwen both make many foolhardy decisions that leave you cringing.  There were many times I wanted to just scream at them.  You can see why Kate became frustrated with her little sister because you too are ready to throw Gwen into the river by the time the book is done.  I don't know if this was Howrey's intention or not, but if it was, she most certainly achieved her goal.  I also don't know who I would recommend it too.  Their adolescent minds, despite the fact that the girls are in their twenties, will not appeal to many folks I know as well as the inaneness of their thoughts and actions.  I am not saying it is bad, but rather for persons with certain tastes.

So now I am off to ice my wounds with a little science fiction.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Shhh...

Currently Reading: The Expats

Pg 299: "We all see ourselves as the center of everything."

Kate has found herself in a sticky situation.  Her husband, mild mannered computer nerd, is not exactly as he seems.  In fact, it turns out he has stolen 50 million Euros from a Serbian overlord and now has the FBI hot on his tail.  Of course he does not know this at the moment.  Only Kate has uncovered the truth.  Or so it seems.  I suppose you are wondering how a simple housewife and mother of two has discovered this scheme.  Well Kate is not what she seems either.  As a former CIA spy, Kate has to recall habits of old and do what she can to save her family.

Wow.  When I read that last paragraph, it makes this book seem common place in the world of spy thrillers, but rest assured, it is not just another page turner.  Chris Pavone brings us into the lives of these expats and others in a very engaging way.  He sprinkles chapters based in the present time between the events that had occurred in the years prior.  His unique main character is not just another CIA operative playing a role to keep up with appearances.  Kate really did give up her job and travel across the globe to be with her husband who supposedly is working for a hyper-secretive bank, helping boost their computer security.  When she stumbles upon this hidden plot, she is not happy to be pulled back into the world of international intrigue.  One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel was that Kate, representing the CIA, is forced to work against its national counterpart, the FBI and its agents who are pursuing her husband.  This foe/friend template adds some interesting twists and turns in the plot.  In the end, even if you thought you knew everything, little clues finally add up and the last chapter is indeed a shocker.

One of the major themes of this novel is secrecy.  Kate obviously has managed to keep her past career and actions from her husband just as he kept his extracurricular activities from her.  The FBI "couple" who befriend Kate's family also practice this secret keeping practice.  Throughout the tale, it is hard to figure out who knows what and who is telling the truth.  Kate struggles with something that many people have to consider each day.  There will come a time when she has to reveal her past, but how much of it to tell?  How much is enough to reestablish trust?  It seems Kate has also done some things in the past that she is reluctant to share even with the reader.  This adds another layer of suspense to the fictional story, but it also appears each day when we interact with each other.  How many lies have you told this week in order to keep something to yourself?  Think about it.  The answer is probably more than you realize.  Little white lies add up.  That raises another question.

When is lying better than telling the truth?  This idea is something that has been pondered over for centuries and perhaps there is no right answer.  You will always find people who say the truth always triumphs, but often they are the ones immersed in an ocean of lies.  For me, sometimes there are things that I would prefer not to know. Let me live in my blissful ignorance for just a bit longer before bursting the bubble.  That's the thing about secrets though.  They are ours to share or keep.  One thing to keep in mind though is something that Kate herself discovers over the course of the novel, just because you think something is a secret, it doesn't always mean it actually is.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Backwards Thinking

Currently Reading: The Night Watch

Pg 58:  "Was it crazy, she wondered, to be as grateful as she felt now, for moments like this, in a world that had atomic bombs in it - and concentration camps, and gas chambers? ... Was it a kind of idiocy or selfishness, to want to be able to give yourself over to trifles ... ?"

Sarah Waters brings us another wonderful tale of love, sorrow, and the desire to find one's place in the world through her masterful wordplay and character development in The Night Watch.  Waters begins the story in 1947, but as the next sections appear, we find ourselves delving into the past in 1944 and finally 1941.  At first this backwards sort of chronology may seem weird, but one of the most exciting features of this book is discovering new facts and features about the characters you thought you knew in the first section.  Waters doles out details only as needed and each page reveals something new about  her characters.  The suspense created by this technique is intoxicating, as are the morsels that are slowly uncovered for the reader.  I find myself constantly thinking, "So that's why..." and "Oh now I know why she was so mad...".  Very exciting.

Another fascinating feature of The Night Watch, as well as Waters' other novels, is that she relates the stories of people who do not fit in with the social norms.  Amongst the main characters are three women in the midst of a trying love triangle, an adulterer and his young mistress, a pair of felons, one of whom was in prison because he tried to kill himself after the death of his boyfriend, and a cast of hilarious women working the night watch for the hospital ambulance services.  They are all tied together by the most incredible, but totally believable events occurring in war time London.  Waters' tendency towards these often overlooked people made me look more into her past to see where some of this may have come from.  It turns out that Sarah can relate all too well with her lesbian characters as being someone who does not fit the typical mold of social acceptability.  Her desire to highlight and celebrate these characters is admirable and certainly increase the suspense in her novels.  Will they be found out?  And also, why does it matter?

The Night Watch, along with other novels by this author, is carefully researched and holds true to the time period as well as settings.  Many novels have been written about this era, but few pull you into daily living as greatly as this one.  Throughout all the biographical information I was able to find about Sarah Waters one major theme remained constant.  She is a life long learner.  Her academic passions prompted her to earn her Ph. D. as well as work as an associate lecturer at times.  When you see her list of awards and accolades, it is clear that she is an academic writer, but even to those of us unable to grasp all the subtle nuances of language, theme and motif, her books are just darn good.  Enough said.

One thing that is still bothering me, and now that I am well into 1941 and the past, is that some of the questions I had at the beginning of the novel will not be answered.  Not because the story ended too soon, but more like it didn't start late enough.  Just like any novel, be it written backwards or forwards, I am still left thinking, what happens next?  I suppose that's just one of the risks you take when reading anything.  The rest is all left up to the reader.  Touche, Ms. Waters.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Something Different

Currently Reading: The Hard Way

Pg 96:  "Simple trigonometry."

I had to chuckle when I read that line.  Picturing the hundreds of high school students who would be reeling if they heard that, not to mention all the adults, is too hilarious to consider.  The best part is that this line is coming in a book that is so not written for the mathematically inclined folks, but rather scripted to appeal to the everyday man, one who reads action tales, should he read for pleasure at all.  Yep.  That's right.  I am writing about one of my "fluff" books.

Several years ago, I came across my first Lee Child book in the lending library at the school I was working at.  I figured, sure, why not give it a try?  Needless to say, I was semi-hooked.  Lee Child's books all center around an enigmatic gentleman who goes by the name Jack Reacher.  Now Reacher is not your typical action hero, but rather an anti-hero.  He heartlessly kills dozens of men (and/or women) per novel, has no-strings-attached sex (always with the female cop/military officer/federal agent who just happens to be his counterpart in the investigation), is a master at hand-to-hand combat, and lives only by his own law.  Now that I have it all laid out, it seems that this actually might appeal to gentlemen hoping to live vicariously through Mr. Reacher just as women love to live through the lovely little heroines in chick lit books.  Here's what I mean by semi-hooked though.  I don't necessarily seek out Reacher novels, but if one happens to be in at the library and I am feeling like a little action is in order, I pick one up.  I have now worked my way through half a dozen or so and despite having the general plot line down, still enjoy reading them every now and again.  It is surprising what an olio my reading list is :)

I wanted to write about this book because the Jack Reacher movie is coming out soon and well, it needs to be discussed.  Not because of how awesome I think it will be (in fact I think it will be not awesome), but because I wanted to talk about casting and directing movies based on books.  The fact that the title is "Jack Reacher" and not "One Shot", the book it is loosely based on, is the first clue as to what the producers will most likely be doing with this adaptation.  I have a feeling many diehard fans will be disappointed in Reacher large on the silver screen.  Obviously the film will be focusing on the man and not the story, so you would think that careful thought would have gone into casting this all-important role.  But no.  It seems only name appeal was needed.  Because yes, the 250 pound, 6'3'', not all that attractive action hero will be played by none other than Tom Cruise, who happens to be short, wiry, and all too good looking.

Now don't get me wrong, Mr. Cruise is a fine actor in his own right, but seriously?  Could they have made a more inappropriate choice when casting the film?  It makes you wonder how much leeway was in the contract signed by Lee Child all those years ago.  Is he really happy with this decision?  What other things are they going to mess up?  I'm frustrated, but just as the books themselves appeal despite their definite lack of substance, the movie appeals just in the opportunity to see just how badly they muck it up.

I have always been one who loves the books more than the movie.  In fact, the only ones that have even come close, in my humble opinion, have been the Lord of the Rings films.  Those at least understood the gravity of the situation.  Undertaking a story with such a passionate fan base is a very daunting task indeed.  In fact, most of the time I don't even go to see the movie because I know I will be nit-picky and not enjoy myself at all.  So now reader, I pass the buck to you.  I never get many comments to my blog postings and would love to hear what you have to say on the subject of movies based on books.  Are you for or against?  Are there any particular standouts?  Share!!