The Dante Club and the Sins of War Monday, Oct 12 2015 

Prior to reading The Dante Club, I had read Matthew Pearl’s The Technologists and because I’d read that book and loved it so much that, I decided to go Pearl’s beginnings and read The Dante Club.  As The Dante Club included so many of the poets I’d studied in my Lit classes, it was a refreshing jaunt through history.  With Longfellow, Holmes, and Lowell, I attempted to uncover the plot of a murderous fiend, who killed in the name of Dante.

It was interesting to see how much of these poets rich histories Pearl included in his novel.  It wasn’t just a murder mystery to be solved, it was an education into our past.  With the Dante Club, we got a peek into the different personalities of these writers, and what they may have been like.  Of course, since it’s historical fiction, we cannot presume that was how they might have really felt, but it was nice to see these figures as real people and not just names in a history book.  It was interesting to see the passionate Lowell, and the demure Holmes with differing opinions on how things should be handled.  

These men who were compatriots, and friends, at times had many disagreements, and the characters’ various traits is what makes Pearl’s characters so relatable.  They didn’t just solve a murder, but they also delved into the complexities of their relationships.  Holmes and Lowell were at such odds, that it was sweet to see them when they worked together.  Although maybe I’m just a sucker for a love/hate friendship.

Though the novel is a typical murder-mystery, it was also a statement on the casualties of war, even after the battles have long ended, seeing the murderer was a suffering Civil War vet.  Despite the gruesome methods in which the murders were committed, one could not help but feel sorry for the poor vet, who did not know how to survive post war.  In a time where we are seeing more and more veterans unable to cope with life post-combat, this sentiment rang painfully clear, and stays fresh in one’s mind.

Casino Royale, where it all started Tuesday, Dec 4 2012 

To aid in my 52 books to read goal, I started reading the James Bond books. It actually worked out in my favor as I’ve wanted to read these books for a very long time. Growing up, I was always a huge James Bond fan. That is mostly because I would watch it with my dad all the time and it was always an excuse for staying up late. As a younger sister, I could always find the perfect excuse for getting around any wrongdoing.

Ian Fleming’s James Bond in Casino Royale

So I figured what would be a more perfect book to read this past summer than James Bond? They are “light” reading and they are short(ish). I managed to read Casino Royale in about a few days, because I am just that awesome, and I really enjoyed it.

I mean, let’s face it, the writing isn’t phenomenal, but it’s definitely worth a read. You don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time reading it, (unlike with some other books, which shall remain nameless) and you find yourself invested in some of the characters.

My only gripe about it is that Fleming comes off as a bit of a racist, and a bit of a misogynist. While I’m aware that racism and sexism came with the times they were written in, it doesn’t make it excusable, and it can make some parts difficult to read. That being said, the books are an accurate portrayal of the times they take place in.

There’s not much that one can talk about with a book like Casino Royale, because like i said its not a book you read for the writing. But it does have a better structure than a lot of the books that get multi-million dollar movies. Then again, the Bond movies always fare well in theaters too. I just don’t think people realize they were books first. And you get what you’d imagine with a Bond book: cars, chases, and chicks (or for us girls, the desire to be one of his).

And you can tell that Fleming did his homework when writing these books, because with the vividness in which he described the game of baccarat, one could feel that they could expertly play the game themselves. The only difference being, I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

Curiouser incidents and deader dogs Monday, Jul 16 2012 

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Dogs die and people lie.  Essentially, that’s the moral of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.  Though the book also has a lot more to it than that, it does at first seem as simple as that.  In a quick and easy narrative, the reader is taken on a journey of discovery and change.It may take some people some time to get used to the narrator’s point of view.  But I felt it was an amazing wonderful and sweet portrayal of a person diagnosed with an autistic spectrum condition.  Christopher’s condition seems to be a lot like Asperger’s but as Haddon is confessedly, by no means an expert on the syndrome, it will go as an unnamed autistic condition.  Also, by all means, the book is not about his condition.  The book is mostly about a young boy’s relationship with his father, and his growth, and the mystery surrounding all of it.  Christopher’s ability with numbers, and inability to cope with certain things, both help and hinder him as he ventures to solve the great mystery around the center of the book.

While the reader may think this is about the eponymous dog, it isn’t.  The dog, Wellington the poodle if you must know, is only the beginning of a series of mysteries which unfold.  I won’t ruin it for you, because I feel like you should never hint or reveal clues of a ‘mystery,’ but I will go on to say that this is definitely not your usual mystery.  The Curious Incident has a much more interesting take on the mystery theme.  Part of this, is because Christopher is narrating this mystery, and his inability to tell lies or create fictional scenarios proves to be rather cumbersome, both to himself and those involved with him.

But despite these inhibitions, Christopher is able to grow immensely as a person, and he finally realizes what actually has to happen in “real life.”  Through the novel, his relationship with his father also grows, and he manages to actually, for once, make his own decisions.  Christopher’s relationship with his father is a subject greatly touched upon throughout the book, and it is something that keeps the reader glued to each page.  But in the end, it’s Christopher’s sweetness and sincerity, and search for honesty and truth that keeps those pages turning.

Technology is no reason for murder Sunday, Jul 8 2012 

Technology is never a good reason for murder, but Matthew Pearl gives one character a compelling, if not crazy reason, for comitting crimes against humanity in the name of technology in his recent book The Technologists.  I recently had the benefit of reading an advanced copy of The Technologists by Matthew Pearl.  Though it was the first book I’ve read of Pearl’s, I had been really excited to read it.  This was partly because it was an advance copy, and partly because, well it was free, and I get giddy over free stuff, because I’m almost always broke.  And let’s face it, who doesn’t get excited about free stuff,  because aren’t we all broke?

my advanced copy of The Technologists

The Technologists was one of the free books I got from goodreads.com.  It was actually really cool, because it was an advance copy, the cover wasn’t even the actual design, and I received a large notice notifying me I could not actually post a review until after the release date.  Not to worry, Random House, I’m such a procrastinator, I didn’t read the book until January, and I am just now writing a review for it.  Sorry, that’s just how much I suck.  I do promise to do much better in the future.

But it wasn’t just the cover that I really loved about this book, it was the author as well.  I mean, I’m just going to say this as matter of factly as possible: Matthew Pearl knows how to grab a reader.  As a writer, (and I can hear my Eng 312 professor now, “you are all writers, but once you get paid to do it, you’re an author”), I know that grabbing the reader is one of the most difficult things to do.  You can’t just start the reader off with something bland.  They want a reason to start reading, and then they need a reason to continue reading.  For example, with The Alchemist,  my only reason to continue reading that was that it was quick.   In The Technologists, Pearl entices the reader so effortlessly, it must be simply second nature to him.  Honestly?  I couldn’t put the book down.

I do have to admit, it did start a bit rough for me, simply because there was a bit of science in the beginning, and though I love Mythbusters (who doesn’t? They blow stuff up), science was never one of my favorite subjects.  And Pearl does his homework, so there was some science in there (for reals).  And it’s not just science he studies, because I read The Dante Club soon after The Technologists, and I can tell you, the man knows how to do his research.   But really, that’s how you should define a good storyteller.  They should do their research, so they know what they are talking about, and they should possess a keen ability to make you want to continue reading their work, even after you finish it.

And for the record, though I love Sherlock Holmes, I don’t typically like murder mysteries.  So that fact alone should tell you that The Technologists is a must read.  It makes a non murder mystery fan, like a murder mystery book.  I will admit, it’s not your typical murder mystery and that it doesn’t really fit the Dan Patterson profile.  And technically, it can’t be classified a murder mystery.  There really isn’t a murder in this book.  Some people die, but the intention wasn’t murder, it was chaos. And I guess I should actually talk about the plot some, huh?

The Technologists’main plot is that there are these ‘accidents’ happening all around Boston.  And, unfortunately for them, the kids over at MIT are being blamed for them.  Now of course, these ‘kids’ (though I use the term loosely, as some of them had already fought in a war), won’t take this sitting down.  They fight these allegations especially hard, since they could lose their school over it.  And it’s a shame, really, that they get blamed for these accidents, because on top of all that, they have to suffer the pious and their disdain of the school’s Darwinist principles, and the obnoxious snobbery from the Harvard students.

One would think that the answer to who the culprit is would be clear cut, but there are definitely a few twists to this book.  One, for example, is the budding romance that develops.  It was especially surprising because it revolved around nerds.  I mean, no offence.  Afterall, I am one, but one never expects them to get any in a book.  Who wants to read about fingers touching over beakers?  Okay, that didn’t actually happen, and I may have actually died if it did.

Would I recommend this book in general?  Yes, definitely.  I thought it was a really quick, fun and intelligent read.  Like I said I could barely put the book down.  And when I did, it was to look up something (pertaining to the plot) on Wikipedia.  I mean, this book not only keeps you enveloped in the mystery but also makes you want to learn!  Where else can you find that?

Why is it called the Hunger Games? Was murder ball taken? Monday, May 21 2012 

I recently had the pleasure of reading Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.  I have to start off by saying how awesome they were.  I finished all three books in three days, but it would have been two, had I not had a crazy day at work on my first day of reading them.  And when i finally finished reading them, I had an empty pit in my stomach.

I couldn’t decide why I felt so empty.  Was it due to the fact that these characters felt so honest, and so real, that it was sad that their story was finished?  Or was it that that the story was so raw, and too frightening as a possible reality (a dystopian world where kids had to kill each other)?  I still haven’t decided.  It’s probably a combination of both reasons, really.  And why did these books affect me so much?  While I consider the books are classics, but not the same caliber, as Ulysses.  James Joyce, Collins is not.  But she does build a vivid world filled with suffering and interlaced with with brief moments of humor and hope.

These books started a love, and addiction, to the characters, akin to my love of Coca Cola (or polar bears).  They are close to being as awesome, in my opinion, to the Harry Potter books.  Cue the braiding my hair sideways, and my sister buying an archery kit for us to practice with.  I even bought myself a District 11 shirt (because Rue is awesome, and because that’s where thecapitol.pn put me).

What makes these books so addicting is all the characters are extremely likable.  While they do all have their faults (some are cold, some are dumb puppies, others are too blindsided by their causes), you can find yourself wanting to know each of the main characters.  The other amazing thing about this trilogy is that there is a female protagonist who actually kicks butt.

And she isn’t just any female protagonist.  She’s a strong willed female character.  She’s not like Bella, who is happy to wait for her boys to fight over her.  Katniss, though clearly in like (we can’t exactly describe it as love at first), also realizes that she doesn’t need anybody to survive or to be happy.  She could do fine just on her own.  And it’s this realization which eventually has her realize who she really wants (not needs) to be with.  And the readers find us chanting along with Katniss.  We can’t decide who we want her with, either.  Some of us want her with Peeta, naturally.  Others wanted her with Gale.  And a few could see her with both.

And while one may think it’s a book simply about teen angst, these novels are more than that.  They are, obviously, a fight of good and evil, but also the idea that too much power is not good for one person.  One side used power for evil, setting children to fight against children, and another side used power for ‘good’ food and comfort for everyone.  But in both cases, they were overexerting themselves over the general populace.  The populace never actually got to decide anything for themselves.  And it’s this idea, this inequality, that so brings to mind past, present and future politics.

This is where I wonder why this so-called pageant (yes, they do use these terms in the books), is even called the Hunger Games.  I think a title using the word Murder would be more appropriate, as that is really what the tournament is about, but then I guess the leaders of the Capitol had to give it a more appealing nature to their citizens.

This book only served to remind me, that yes, this hasn’t happened for us, but it has happened for children in war torn nations across the world.  Not this exactly, but nothing much better.  Why is it okay for kids to be taken and used in wars and battles?  And after reading and watching the movie, it made me worry, “am I much better than a citizen of the Capitol, reading and watching a story about kids fighting each other?”  One would like to think so, and I try to remind myself of the differences.  But I can’t help but wonder.

Death is not an option for many in Suzanne Rivecca’s novel Sunday, Apr 29 2012 

Death is Not an Option by Suzanne Rivecca is a great quick read, perfect for the upcoming summer months.  In her compilation of stories about young women dealing with love, sex, and growing up, Rivecca cautions readers to the hazards of life.  There are 7 stories in this collection, and each story, though short, has very strong, warm, and detailed characters.

The first story is the eponymous “Death is Not an Option.”  This story takes us into the world of a high school teenager, Emma, who fights with her insecurities, and worries about her lack of plans for the futuret.  She is forced to deal with a frenemy who seems nice enough, but manages to humiliate her regardless.  Whether these attempts are on purpose or by accident, remains to be seen.

And so we age from adolescence to collegiate, in “Yours Will do Nicely,” and Katrina, who is also found struggling with identity and personal crises.  After a failed one night stand, the narrator finds herself writing letters to him.  She struggles with her change in personality and how that affects those around her.

And then we age to graduate level in “It Sounds Like You’re Feeling.”  And now the tense is second person.  The narrator here, unnamed, is young female who works at a hotline, answering just before they are escalated to counselors.  Unable to cope with her work, she is told to see an appointed therapist, who she grows attached to in a paternal way.

When we move on to “Very Special Victims,” where we have a young woman who was sexually assaulted at a very young age, and how she had to cope with parents who believed her, and yet didn’t want to, and an uncle who would never admit to his crime.  This sad yet poignant tale, brings home the point that not all victims immediately get the love and support they deserve.

And then we move to “Look Ma, I’m Breathing,”a short story of a young memoirist who gets stalked by a would-be landlord.  Here we experience a woman being wrong, who at first doesn’t not want to admit it herself, and so does nothing to stop it, but eventually finds the courage to enact a restraining order.parents who believed her, and yet didn’t want to, and an uncle who would never admit to his crime.  This sad yet poignant tale, brings home the point that not all victims immediately get the love and support they deserve.

The next tale, “Consummation,” is really a long letter, but a very long and detailed letter to a doctor who saved her (the letter writer) father’s life.  The entire letter is a long story of the person he saved, and his effect on his daughter.  And how at times she is happy he is saved, and most of the time she thinks she is not.

The final story, “None of the Above,” is of a recently married teacher who struggles with dealing with a student who may be abused at home.  She follows the appropriate steps, and though confronted, it seems like there may be no abuse.  Not to be fooled though, the young teacher begins to create her own investigation, and eventually discovers what the family has been hiding.

All in all, each story strongly grasps the issues many women face.  And the struggles with emotions that many have to go through.  I have to say that the only issue I found with this book is that it left me wanting more.  I wanted to know what happened to each of these characters after their individual tales end.  I felt like I could really hear more about each of these stories.  Then again, at most, that’s all we ever really get when we meet people, brief snapshots into their lives, and it’s just greedy to ask for more..

On goons and pauses Tuesday, Sep 27 2011 

“Time’s a goon, right?”  Right.  Though it may seem like a collection of short stories at first, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squadis actually an intricate web of lives thrust together.  You could say the main characters are two people.  A boss, Bennie Salazar, and his secretary, Sasha.  Though the novel is filled with many other vibrant characters, it is these two that stand out the most.  And it is these two that have a connection, however indistinct, to every other character in the novel.

The novel itself becomes like a puzzle.  Each chapter, each individual story is an interlocking piece of a larger picture.  Much like one of those digital art pieces you can buy at a poster store, made up of thousands of still images, each chapter in this novel can stand on its own, but when combined together the stories are a beautiful portrait.

And you don’t have to be a pure good person to make it okay in life.  Even those who make mistakes end up well, because they’ve tried to make up for all the hurt they’ve caused, by doing good.  It isn’t a matter of black and white, but different shades of gray, and sometimes color.

The way Egan meshes these character’s lives, is an obvious allegory to life itself.  As you don’t see some people every day of your life, you only know what happens through snapshots.  And so we are this additional character in the novel.  Unspoken of, and not made reference to.  And we just meet up with our friends through the years, and recall some of our favorite, and some of our worst memories.  And we see their lives change as time goes by.  A Visit from the Goon Squad tells us, throughout the course of the book, is that time can be a goon, but sometimes you can stop it from pushing you around.  And the other times, you can always stop and listen to the pauses.

Franzen and freedom isn’t really free Tuesday, Jul 26 2011 

Forget about its title.  For those looking to read about those living the American Dream and finding a happy story, you aren’t likely to find that in Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom.  While the novel doesn’t end like a Shakespearean drama, it does have a series of ups and downs throughout.Freedom explores the concept of freedom in a different way.  It explores the idea of too much freedom, too much exploration, too much avarice.  Freedom is a good thing.  As long as you have the wisdom to use it wisely.  The moral is that everyone deserves their freedom, their right to choose whatever they want, but not at the expensive of others, and not at the expense of yourself.  And we learn this because of the characters in the novel.

There are no perfect characters in Franzen’s novel.  There are no Mary Sue’s.  Each and every character has their good and bad.  Some are more ‘good’ than they are bad.  And some are the reverse.  But not one person is more than they should be.  The characters have their happy fulfilled moments, but they also experience their own heart wrenching drama.  And all the pain they experience is of their own doing.

And it isn’t just the characters that make Franzen’s work so memorable (although we do all want to “talk about Patty”).  Franzen’s natural affinity for the written word is what makes Freedom whole.  He has an ability in making long sentences sound just right.  And at first, because the words just flow over the course of the book, you don’t think twice about it.  It’s not until you think about it a third or fourth or fifth time, when you are say, discussing it at a book club, that you realize you just read a sentence that spanned 6 or 8 lines, and it barely phased you.  And while many may not take this into consideration, it is a feat to wonder at.  His sentences are not only thoughtful, but meticulously structured.  And it is this, that makes you realize how talented a wordsmith Franzen is.

So for those who are looking for an enthralling read this summer, I highly suggest you read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom.  While not the normal lighthearted summer read, its character more than makes up for it.

A strange case for Mr. Norrell Saturday, Dec 11 2010 

At 800 pages, Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell,” could intimidate even the most avid reader. But don’t let it’s size steer you away. “Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell,” is a stimulating read for readers young and old, however, as it is a bit dense, I’d say it may be a challenge for readers that are below high school reading levels.

To be honest, what first attracted me to the novel was that I heard it was similar to Harry Potter. I’ve discovered that statement does not accurately describe it in the least. “Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell,” isn’t just a Harry Potter book for adults. While both books do carry elements of magic, that is primarily where the similarities end. “Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell,” is filled with both the hope of magic returned and a rich history that almost convinces the reader that magic is still around today.

The Raven King’s symbol, a raven in flight.

The novel tells the story of two magicians in three volumes, while one magician, the Raven King, reigns throughout. While the book is primarily about magic and its ‘return’ to England, the novel is also about relationships, be it with servants, wives, friends, or each other. As we watch these relationships unfold and blossom, Susanna Clarke artfully illustrates the intricacies of dealings with magicians. Be it the way that Norrell envies the ease with which Strange works, or the way Strange worries of becoming like Norrell.

One aspect of the novel that helps perpetrate the belief magic really does exist is its extensive footnotes. Though at times I found the the footnotes to be dense as they were rather excessive, I loved how much history they provided the reader. These footnotes provided the reader with a deep set past of England and it’s magic, be it with the Raven King’s stories, or stories of workings with faeries. Many times did I wish that John Uskglass did yet exist and that the ravens seen in London were the still working for their ‘master.’

All in all, despite the novel being rather different from Harry Potter, it does match it in at least this one way. By the end of reading either novels, the reader is left with the hope that, despite what we’ve been told countless times by parents and teachers alike, magic does exist.