Wednesday, January 28, 2015

CALFORNIA – EDAN LEPUCKI

Dystopian novel again for me. I felt shades of 1984, Brave New World, and even The Postman, and yet this had a unique feel. No shocking scenes of apocalypse or war or anything like that. The story begins after the cataclysm is all over, and what had been middle class and poor people are trying to survive by creating new communities, farms, and enclaves. We only see what is going on in California because there is no electronic communication so we the readers have no idea how the rest of the world is faring. There had been some kind of economic failure, the rich have spent years growing their gated communities. They built bigger and more secure walls around their communities, they recruited their own doctors, teachers, and upper echelon thinkers, planners, engineers, and security forces. Everyone else was been kept out, and the rest of the world deteriorated rapidly. Once the exclusive communities stockpiled what they needed and built their own medical, educational, etc. facilities there was little left for everyone else. Most on the outside have either died or moved out of cities to rural areas. There are pirates, armies, and lots of bad guys roaming.

Cal and Frida were middle class, educated, young people. They fled Los Angeles when the old and sick died off, food and medicine became hard to acquire, and living in the city became dangerous. As the book begins they are subsisting in a wooded area outside of Los Angeles. They try to grow their own food and scavenge for other needs. For a while a family of four lives close by and a traveling peddler named August comes occasionally. But after the family dies and Frida becomes pregnant they seek to find other people to live with or near.

Behind a series of frightening and somewhat dangerous constructions, they call spikes, that are laid out in a type of maze, Frida and Cal find a small survival group of about 60 people. The village within the shelter is difficult to figure out, there are secrets, like why are there no children, why does the peddler stay away so long, how do they keep the pirates away, and where does the group get their supplies? The leader, Micah, turns out to be not only a rebel against the rich communities in the time before the collapse, but also the brother Frida thought was dead.

The reader knows things are not as they seem. There is a creepiness about the camp. Everything is regimented and all must work and work hard to keep the camp going. Frida and Cal have a limited time to be accepted and they must be voted in or out, but they have kept the secret of their baby and children are not allowed in the camp. The previous children were sent to one of the neighboring “Communities” to either be adopted or raised as “hatters,” those who do the menial work that rich people and their children do not do. Frida and Cal think they can convince the camp members to accept a baby, but of course things do not go as planned.


This isn't a “can't wait to turn the page” thriller or even a very macabre-feeling story, but it was one with a new twist to how the world falls apart and how it operates after the big crash. As long as you are rich, and other people are willing to get you what you want or need for the minimum you offer them, you are fine in this new world. But simmering on the outside are those not happy and what are they planning? Personally I found the end wrapping up too fast and where Frida and Cal end up seems to come too easily. But that does leave it open for a sequel. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

THE WILD GIRL – JIM FERGUS

Have you ever read a book so fast that by the time you finished you were starting to forget part of it? Yup, me too. Even though I have read better books this one made me want to stop my life so I could find out what happens to this poor wild girl. I liked the construction, and while it wasn't as good as Fergus's other book One Thousand White Women I still liked it and we had a great discussion at book group. My book is full of sticky notes. I would call it an historical fiction adventure tragedy. There is about equal amounts of history, thrills, adventure, humor, and sadness.

The first eight pages seem to be inside the head of “La Nina Bronca” or “The Wild Girl” on the day of her capture by a white bounty hunter in 1932. Two and a half pages follow of old Ned Giles in 1999 talking of his imminent death and explaining what is to follow, which is his collection of notebooks from 1932 which begin with the death of his parents, his decision to become a photographer, and his adventure with the 1932 Great Apache Expedition. Interspersed with his notebook chapters are Wild Girl chapters also.

The expedition is actually a commercial event. Similar to one of those Hemingway or Teddy Roosevelt expeditions, this one is organized to go into Mexico to rescue the small son of a wealthy landowner who had been kidnapped by some wild Apaches, but it is also a guise for a hunting excursion. There will be all sorts of wild animals to kill and while it's not a crime to shoot Indians there are still rewards offered for Apache scalps in Mexico. The recruits pay a pretty exorbitant amount to be allowed to participate, and as you can imagine the cast of characters is amazing. Besides Ned, there is Tolley, a gay young man from a wealthy family who thinks an expedition may make a “man” out of him, Margaret, a female anthropology student, Big Wade Jackson, a hard-drinking obese photojournalist, and a very mean chief of police, just to name a few of the memorable characters.

When the expedition is held up by the discovery of an Apache girl in a jail on a hunger strike, Ned takes pity on her. He cleans her up, gets her to eat, but also takes a series of pictures of her. Then he gets the idea for the expedition to take her along to try to trade her to the Indians for the boy. Later in his life those pictures help make Ned his reputation as a photographer but during the expedition he has a love affair with her as well. While Ned's story begins in January of 1932 with the death of his parents and his independence, the adventures of the Great Apache Expedition begin in April and end in November. In between there is a lot of blood and guts, fighting, shooting, and killing, but also, learning, evolving characters and salvation. As you can guess, the expedition does not go as planned.

Fergus's notes, both in the book and on his website describe his research and relate the true stories upon which his book is based. There was a lot of history about those types of expeditions that I was not aware of and just the fact that it was legal to kill Indians in 1932 made me sick. It is a very good historical fiction read and I highly recommend it.



THE GOLDFINCH – DONNA TARTT

Yikes! I wrote this a long time ago and just now realized I forgot to finish it and get it on my blog. Excuse – my mom's birthday was fast approaching - it would be my first one without her since she passed away. I needed a really good book to take my mind off of things and so my daughter-in-law gave me Goldfinch. She was pretty sure I would like it and she was so right. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. It helped me through a difficult week.

The cover is so intriguing. It appears to be a package wrapped in white butcher paper with a tear showing just a bit of a picture of a bird. I have read enough articles by authors that are unhappy with cover art which apparently they have so little control over, but Tartt has to be happy with this one, it so much represents the story.

The writing was excellent and the construction of the chapters were so artistically put together that I cannot say enough about how wonderful this book is. Theo lives in an apartment in NYC with his mom and they have a very loving, if dependent relationship. One day while waiting for an appointment at his school, they go to see an exhibit of Dutch masterpieces at the Met. His mother is excited to show Theo the real painting that was her favorite as a child. Theo gets his eye on a pretty girl who is with an older man and when his mother wants to go to the gift shop they separate. Theo is following the girl trying to flirt with her when a bomb goes off in the building. When Theo awakens he is in a pile of rubble where he sees the old man and tries to help him. The man gives him a ring with instructions of where to take it and points. Theo sees the Goldfinch picture and stuffs it in his backpack. Theo somehow finds his way out of the crumbling building without notice and goes home. He and his mother have an agreement that if they are ever separated they are to meet at home. Days go by, she does not return.

From there Theo and the Goldfinch embark on several paths; first to a friends family where he lives fairly happily for a time, he even finds time to return the ring and meet the old man's partner, Hobie and finds out the girl survived, then his deadbeat dad shows up and takes him to Las Vegas into his life of gambling and crime, finally Theo makes his way back to Manhattan and to Hobie's antique shop and the girl. All through the book the priceless painting is with Theo. When he realizes he may be in big trouble because the FBI is tracking down all the lost art, and he may be found out it is nail-biting reading to see if he will get caught with it.

I found all of the characters entrancing like Welty Blackwell the girl's caretaker who dies in the bombing, his partner Hobie who takes care of the girl and learns to love Theo teaching him about antique restoration and repair, even Boris, the Russian boy who returns as an adult as a criminal thug to get Theo in a lot of trouble. I would read it again so I am hoping one of my book group picks it for a future read. There really is a famous Goldfinch painting too, which was fun to look up and read about.


RHYMES WITH WITCHES – LAUREN MYRACLE

You know I like a pretty cover especially if it has a mix of glossy parts and raised images. This cover had it all. Also 237 pages with a lot of dialog and being a YA book made me realize it would only take a few hours so - no problem. I also knew that Myracle is often controversial among parents and challenged in school libraries making it even better. If you know me at all, you know how I hate it when parents over shelter teens from controversial books – I get that from my dad who was a librarian.

Not my favorite, but still I would give it to girls. It is a take on the “mean girl” theme, and also has that touch of the occult feel, and a little creepiness. Jane isn't any different from thousands of girls every year who yearn to be in the dominant clique in every school. So as a freshman when Jane is groomed for a position in “The Bitches” she is surprised but also primed and ready. As you would predict she has no idea what all is going to be asked of her nor who she will step on or hurt along the way. Every high school kid in America thinks about these things.

As implied by the title the initiation tasks have a bit of wizardry to them. The consequences are creepy and sad. You guessed it, the “Bitches” are actually witches and there is even a teacher that in the past had been one at the school when she was a teen. Jane learns hard lessons but also is shocked to see kids who not only don't care what the popular group does, they have no desire to be close to them or in their group. Why would anyone not want to be popular – well some are just happy being who they are and having normal friendly relationships.


Easy to read, good lessons to reinforce. Some parents will object to language and drinking issues in the school, but let us get over pretending it isn't in our school and not likely to stop any time soon.

DRACULA THE UN-DEAD – DACRE STOKER

It's still October and I have not fulfilled my quest for a great noir book for the month. The PR for this book sounded so good! Well, it wasn't. I didn't hate the whole thing and there were some great suspenseful scenes but as a whole I object to so much of it. It was billed as a sequel to Bram Stokers Dracula by his great grand nephew and therefore I thought the research and follow up would be awesome. The part I didn't seem to catch is that Dacre Stoker is a track and field coach which should have thrown up a red flag for me but...

It's twenty-five years after the death of Dracula at the hands of Jonathan Harker and Quincey Morris and the whole band if the first book is in shambles. The Harkers have a grown son, Quincey. Quincey has been pressured to go to law school, but longs to be in the theater. Jonathan is in a poor state of alcoholism, in a deep depression, and turning to prostitutes because Mina does not age as a result of her contamination by Dracula. And still, she continues to occasionally pine for Dracula. Enter Elizabeth Bathory a vampire stalking the streets of Paris and becoming a threat to the younger Harker. Drug-addicted old Seward appears to track her down. Aging Van Helsing also appears.

To make a long blog short, Dracula is not really dead and reappears (I hate that) and the younger Harker of course meets him while Dracula is performing as Richard the Third in Paris Theater posing as the famous Russion actor Basarab. Quincey becomes spellbound by him. Dracula/Basarab is also in this book not evil, but Bathory is, so Dracula/Basarab, in the book works to stop her and tries to destroy her and her minions. The bumbling, drug addicted Seward, and then Van Helsing are also trying to track her down. There is a lot of blood and guts death, sad romance, and the totally incredibly stupid concept of making Dracula the hero.

The part I liked was that during the story Quincey comes upon a writer named Bram Stoker who is trying to peddle his book about a vampire and then he finds out his parents are in the book. Nice twist to the tale and worked in pretty well. It just didn't go where I wanted it to go, and I expected too much.

But I don't want to say it was completely horrible and that one shouldn't read it because I know full-well what is not my cup-of-tea may be yours.



Saturday, January 24, 2015

STARDUST – NEIL GAIMAN

Oh! I saw on Netflix that I could watch Stardust, the BBC production by Gaiman. Therefore, I went searching for my special and most beautiful copy and sat right down and read it. It was every bit as good as the first time... let's see is this only the second, or third time I have read it?

The mythical town of Wall gets its name from the wall that separates the town from the faerie realm. Every nine years the humans from Wall are allowed to visit the faerie market. Dunstan Thorne does so where he meets a princess named Una who is imprisoned by a horrible gypsy/witch. Dunstan purchases a glass snowdrop flower from Una but also meets her in the woods where they make love. Dunstan returns to Wall where he weds his love Daisy and starts a family. However, nine months later a baby is delivered in a basket to Dunstan and Daisy who have a daughter of their own. Daisy and Dunstan love the boy, Tristran and he is raised along with his sister.

Eighteen years later in the faerie kingdom of Stormhold the king is dying. He has several sons and the one who holds the Power of Stormhold, which is an amber amulet is to be the new ruler. The dying king throws his amulet into the sky causing a star to fall from the sky into the land of Faerie. Immediately the sons embark on a quest to find it, and also to kill each other in order to be the one remaining heir. I know that sounds vulgar but the scenes are funny, and once they are dead the brothers continue to follow their surviving brothers around making hysterical comments.

Back in Wall Tristran is courting the most beautiful girl in the town, Victoria, and they see the falling star. Victoria agrees to marry Tristran if he brings her the star, so with his father's blessing and the gift of the glass snowdrop, Tristran evades the Wall guards and slips into Stormhold to search for the star. Also looking for the star are three witches who need to find it to regain their youth (by eating her still-beating heart). However, on earth (or in Faerie Land) a falling star becomes a young woman Yvaine, with a definite agenda of her own. Being taken captive by a young man, having her heart eaten by three hags, or being slain for her amulet do not fit into her plans. A very young Claire Dane is a very nice Yvaine in the movie.


The story is part fairy tale, part fable, a bit Tolkien-ish, and even some Monty Python. I laughed and couldn't stop to eat, or go out, but did have to stop to feed my cats. Loved it. Then.... I watched the movie. I would have to say, had I not just finished the book I would probably have liked it fine. There was no mention of the nine-year allowance of people visits to Faerie Land! That is objectionable to me. There was also a real changing of the end with added encounters of characters who never met and certainly never had knock-down drag out fights, but I guess that is what people like so why not? But, there is a lot of magic which I do like; magic chains, silly elves, hairy men, candles that help you travel as they burn, and a unicorn. Oh also, a love story, a very sweet one. I need a child to watch it with me again, but I need one old enough to which I can read the book first. Volunteers?

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE – NEIL GAIMAN

Is anyone else out there “virtually” in love with Neil Gaiman and his voice? I have been for years, actually since 1998 when I read Neverwhere, which I read again the fall of 2000 when one of my book groups read it. Actually I am dying to read it again! He also frequently reads something for October that is online and I could listen to him read all day.

I revisit his work every October because he does those fantastic “All Hollows Read” posters which I am compelled to post on my facebook and often print out for my home because they are so creative. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was our public library in October and once again I was not disappointed. What a lovely mystical modern fairy tale!

In the Sussex English countryside, the nameless narrator recounts his trip back to his childhood home for a funeral. The person whose eulogy he delivers is also not named, but I surmise it is his father's. There is to be a dinner later at his sister's house and as he wanders through the town of his childhood he finds himself drawn to follow the lane down which he had lived as a child to the farm of the mysterious Hempstocks. The year he was seven the mysterious Lettie Hempstock and he had embarked upon a fantastical adventure connected to the pond on their farm, which Hettie claimed was an ocean. The children had encountered an evil being who entered their world and nearly destroyed the boy's family. The story was totally eerie, a bit of “Twilight Zone” where a mysterious nanny ingratiates herself to the adults, particularly to the father, while the children see her evilness and the boy uncovers her diabolical plot. The Hempstocks must come to his rescue.


The memories of the time living down the lane and the creature from the dark are elusive and the boy, as he becomes a man, cannot hold onto them. It is only when he returns to his boyhood home do the wisps of memory return and the urge comes upon him to seek out Hettie. Each time he finds out that he has, on occasion, returned before, but he never remembers once he leaves. It is a short book so I don't want to say too much but I would encourage anyone who likes a good fantasy scare to share this one. It did not escape me that the name Hempstock repeats in Gaiman's works. Last October the same book group read The Graveyard Book and there was a Hempstock in that, and I'm pretty sure there was one in Stardust. I'm in the mood for a bit of stardust, I may go looking for that on my bookshelf again – hope I didn't loan it out!

BOOKSHELVES AND BLOGGING

Once again I have neglected my book blogging. I work on them, but I just never seem to take the time to proofread and post! So today I dedicated the whole day to looking at them, making corrections and additions and trying to get them posted.

However, I want to also share with you another reason I may be derelict at my blogging duties. We have been changing our formal living room into a library with custom shelves. This involved, furniture moving, taking out a window, cutting holes in drywall, and hours upon hours of rounding up books from rooms, under beds, in boxes etc. and alphabetizing, then rearranging. We are not done I'm sure but here we are!