Tuesday, November 26, 2013

An Evening with Junot Diaz


An Evening with Junot Diaz

Thursday, November 14th, 2013
Welcome Reception 6pm  

Reading 7pm

Naugatuck Community College

750 Chase Parkway, Waterbury, CT
Mainstage Theater
3rd Floor, Arts Building


This event is free and open to the public.

Junot Diaz is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao". He was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. His new book is entitled "This Is How You Lose Her".

Below Arianna and Amber will give some thoughts and review the event itself. 

The two of us attended the above talk at Naugatuck Valley Community College in Waterbury, CT.  This was hosted by the school's very impressive newspaper, The Tamarack.  It seems that the school had a connection with Diaz through one of its professors of writing or newspaper advisers, or both?  We can't quite recall, but it was a woman who had known Diaz for years, and been dragged along to a reading of his first book, Drown, which he published in 1996.  The woman told a funny little story about how she was initially unimpressed with Diaz's work, and told him so!  Since then, they have remained friends, as Diaz has gathered accolades galore - including a Pulitzer Prize - for his writing.

The audience was made up mostly of students and faculty of NVCC, most of whom were Hispanic.  Diaz spoke often specifically to them, as he is a great inspiration, having been the first Dominican writer (and one of the first Hispanics?) to receive a Pulitzer.  So it was a great thing to have him come speak to an auditorium full of young, impressionable students.  And he seemed to really strike home with them, especially because he often lapsed into slang and Spanish, and sprinkled his speech with profanity, which made him more relatable and enjoyable to listen to.  His wasn't some dry, academic lecture on the nature of writing.  He engaged the audience, often had them laughing out loud, and really spoke to them as equals, which seemed to work very well.

All in all, the talk was light and enjoyable for the most part, although Diaz did touch on some tough subjects, such as why there is such a perceived gender disparity between how each handles relationships, and why Dominican men are "how they are."  Of course, he made the very important point that it's not just Dominican men, and it's not just men. People are people, and we all have strange but perhaps self-rationalized reasons for what they do.  It was especially interesting to listen to Diaz discuss the reasons he thought were behind why DR men act the way they do, especially when it comes to misogyny.  He pointed out that Hispanic men are given many societal (but not always logical) reasons why they should hide and mask their internal selves.  He was a great, insightful, and very honest speaker.

Diaz has a very strong and deep connection with the Caribbean which he expressed multiple times during his talk. One of the questions he was asked was about Spanish Novellas and if they inspired any of his work. Apparently, to him, Novellas should inspire everyone. His take was that Novellas took the ordinary to the extreme which then elevated a story to fantasy, when something is fantasy it then takes on a different value to a person. Books intrigue because they mirror your life in subtle or profound ways. For Diaz, if a Novella is extreme... one can only wonder what his sci-fi book, "Monstro", will be like? (Currently being written). Who knows when we'll see this book though: Diaz is notorious for taking quite a long time to finish each book (11 years to write his 2nd book and 16 years to write the 3rd!! -- And he claims he must go to his "dark place" to write!).

His honesty really stuck out and seemed to resonate with the audience. He did tend to speak quite a bit about the Hispanic culture but he also tried to connect to the other majority in the audience--the readers! He explained how a book isn't something someone has "to get", and how reading isn't a test even though some teachers might make it seem like it is. He even spoke a little about how making reading a school chore takes the fun out of it. His best advice to aspiring Authors was: "READ!" Everyone in the audience seemed to agree with nods and mumbles of accord. When Diaz was then asked why he writes... His reply? He doesn't know how to do anything else.

Some great points & concepts we took away from Diaz's talk:


  • "We live like ghosts" -- Diaz
  • A book (reading a book) isn't something to "get", it's not a test. Books intrigue because they mirror your life in subtle or profound ways.
  • The masculine & patriarchal regime of the Caribbean produces great feminist Dominican women.
  • Monogamy? Exacts a price on people. Possessive marriage has produced enormous damage in our society today.
  • Dark, deep history of the Caribbean. Most artists die trying to be "the best" but most art is born in that dark place beyond approval and applause. Diaz writes without looking for this approval, away from it all. He wants to go into that space and bring back a drop of something. Needs to be away from social pressures, he doesn't care if it's prize-worthy...only if it's art. (Which he realizes is a very subjective idea.)
  • He is currently writing his first scifi book, Monstro.  A totally new experience for him.  (from the NVCC newspaper, The Tamarack)

Want more?  Check out the Twitter hashtag #JunotDiazNVCC for other thoughts and responses from the event.


-Arianna & Amber

Monday, November 25, 2013

Behind The Candelabra: My Life With Liberace


Behind The Candelabra: My Life With Liberace
By Scott Thorson
Rating 4 out of 5

Published 1988

First Sentence
""Too much of a good thing is wonderful," Liberace used to say when commenting on a flashy new costume or wild idea for his act."
Publisher's Description:
In this unusually frank book Scott Thorson tells all: the good, the bad, and the ugly truths about a legendary entertainer who went to outrageous extremes to prevent public knowledge of his homosexuality. Liberace's unhappy childhood, dominated by a mother determined to force him into a concert career, serves as the prologue for a story that goes on to detail Liberace’s early appearances in honky-tonks, his move to New York to seek fame, and, finally, his first booking in Las Vegas, where he was courted by the Mafia. His successes create a bright counterpoint to a darker tale of a man hungry for power, given to every excess. Liberace's credo—"too much of a good thing is wonderful"—is reflected here in his acquisition of new lovers, luxurious homes, a large collection of pornography, and a total of twenty-six house dogs. Behind the Candelabra also reveals the details of the fundamentally tender love affair between Liberace and Thorson—whom Liberace sent to his own plastic surgeon to have his face remodeled in Liberace's own image! This fast-paced story, sprinkled with anecdotes about famous entertainers such as Michael Jackson and Shirley MacLaine, ends with an intimate look at Liberace's final days as he lay dying of AIDS—and his deathbed reconciliation with Scott.

Dear Reader,

I won't ever look at Liberace the same way after listening to this story.
 I didn't really have much of an opinion of Liberace since his life was before my time and he didn't create any music that influenced me. I had heard from my mother in disgusted, hushed tones that he was gay, but that wasn't a shocking or a disgusting thing for me to hear about a larger than life performer.  I would have appreciated him much more if he had owned his homosexuality but I know that wasn't a safe thing to do during his lifetime.
If we are to believe all of what Scott Thorson says, and I do,  I don't like Liberace. I feel a lot of pity for Scott.  I should say I feel a lot of empathy for him since I have experienced my own, life destroying break up.  I think that is why my anger for Liberace was so personal and visceral.  I projected my own experience on the narrative of theirs. I particularly was angered by all the times that Liberace lies and promises to take care of people in his life; for the rest of their lives. Breaking one's word or even making that kind of promise without knowing or caring if it will be fulfilled is heinous.
Despite their 5 year legal war, Scott ends up forgiving Liberace and making amends with him before he dies of AIDS.  I did take satisfaction that Scott was spared from AIDS because Liberace kicked him out before he contracted it. I was further saddened to hear from the book's afterword about Scott's life in the Witness Protection Program.  He was shot and battled drug addiction and finally in the most current related news he has become physically impaired by one the bullet wounds near his spine and also, rectal cancer. In his afterword he also comments that he is looking forward to seeing the movie version  of this story where he is played by Matt Damon.
The story in this book is very interesting and emotionally engaging but the writing is glaringly simple. It is clear that Scott Thorson is not a writter.  He repeats some points enough for me to be irritated by it and he uses the word 'outrageous' far too many times. A thesaurus could have improved that. Also in the midst of his narrative he goes off on a tangent about homosexuality amongst celebrities that doesn't transition well. I understand that he has things to say that relate to the overall life and times of Liberace, but it stuck out to me as distracting. With some consultation and editing from a true writer,  it could have been incorporated better.
Overall the content of the book moved me and I admire Scott's determination to paint an accurate picture of Lee the man, instead of the Faberge of Liberace. He did this in 1987 despite threats against him from Liberace's people at the time of publication. I recommend this book for people interested in behind the scenes reality check of celebrities in their own fame encrusted bubbles. It's also a time piece in the evolution of how far modern America has come to accept and respect the contributions of the homosexual community. It also shows that the life of expectancy of someone diagnosed with AIDs has increased from a year to several decades.

Yours,
Marsha

Mudwoman


Mudwoman
Joyce Carol Oates
4/5


Published 2012

First Sentence
"You must be readied, the woman said."
Publisher's Description:

A riveting novel that explores the high price of success in the life of one woman—the first female president of a lauded ivy league institution—and her hold upon her self-identity in the face of personal and professional demons, from Joyce Carol Oates, author of the New York Timesbestseller A Widow’s Story

Mudgirl is a child abandoned by her mother in the silty flats of the Black Snake River. Cast aside, Mudgirl survives by an accident of fate—or destiny. After her rescue, the well-meaning couple who adopt Mudgirl quarantine her poisonous history behind the barrier of their middle-class values, seemingly sealing it off forever. But the bulwark of the present proves surprisingly vulnerable to the agents of the past.

Meredith “M.R.” Neukirchen is the first woman president of an Ivy League university. Her commitment to her career and moral fervor for her role are all-consuming. Involved with a secret lover whose feelings for her are teasingly undefined, and concerned with the intensifying crisis of the American political climate as the United States edges toward war with Iraq, M.R. is confronted with challenges to her leadership that test her in ways she could not have anticipated. The fierce idealism and intelligence that delivered her from a more conventional life in her upstate New York hometown now threaten to undo her.

A reckless trip upstate thrusts M.R. Neukirchen into an unexpected psychic collision with Mudgirl and the life M.R. believes she has left behind. A powerful exploration of the enduring claims of the past,Mudwoman is at once a psychic ghost story and an intimate portrait of a woman cracking the glass ceiling at enormous personal cost, which explores the tension between childhood and adulthood, the real and the imagined, and the “public” and “private” in the life of a highly complex contemporary woman.

Dear Reader,

This is a book about the true development of a crushed human soul. A woman who has lived with a confusing and troubled past. A past that she has broken away from to become a reputable and accomplished President of a very prestigious University (the first FEMALE one). Even though M.R. has gained acclaim from her academic career, we slowly see her unravel in a horrific downward spiral. It brings the reader to a very strange place, that has you wondering what might be real and what might be hallucination. This is something that Oates does very well and really brings about that gothic and dark feel she is so known for.

We're first introduced to M.R. (Mudwoman) as a child who lives with an overtly religious zealot mother and her creepy pedophilic boyfriend. There is no mention if this man is her father, and later on even M.R. reflects on this, wondering if she ever even had a father. Within the first few chapters (might even be the first one, can't quite remember) we read in horror as her mother takes this precious little girl and throws her into a mud pit to suffocate (hence the title of the book). By the good graces of a local who is guided by this mysterious "King of Crows" (a recurring animal guide in the story), he finds this child in the mud and rescues her. This all happens very early and is even mentioned on the book flap, so I don't consider this a spoiler. The child is then taken to an orphanage and adopted shortly after by a Quaker family, very kind and loving but they have a strange story of their own. I won't get into this because I think there is a pivotal point to the back-story of this family, one I don't want to ruin for you.

The book goes back and forth from present to past as we watch M.R. slowly deteriorate and travel back to places that remind her of her past. Oates did this so smoothly, it wasn't hard to follow at all. I love when an Author has a good grasp of when to move the story from present to past without losing too much of the feeling. You find yourself wondering what exactly is going on, but not because of the time frame. This feeling is from all the daydreams, hallucinations and events that happen and you don't quite know which is which. Is what just happened a dream? Reality? It was kind of fun trying to figure it all out without getting you lost in the process.

I think my favorite part of this book is the major theme of feminism. Yes, Oates tends to have a heavy hand on this theme in most of her books... but does that make it any less important? No! Mostly because she does it so gosh darn well. You have to remember that Oates was born in the late 1930's, during a period of time that was extremely enclosed. She grew up on a farm and attended a school with only one classroom! She was given a typewriter at age 14 and has been writing ever since. She really makes the perfect feminism writer, although she claims she doesn't like that label and would rather be known as "a woman who writes". I just adore everything about this woman, so yeah... I'm pretty biased.

Getting back to the book, Mudwoman is so chock full of symbolism that at times I was wondering if I was fully understanding everything there was to the story. For example, during M.R.'s travels she came across many physical bridges that also played a huge part in unraveling her past. These bridges were big turning points for her, crossing them brought her clarity to her past. This was probably one of the most obvious symbols in the book and I'm sure I missed quite a few of the more inconspicuous ones. This would be a book to re-read, knowing that the second attempt would bring about much more clarity to the story. If you want to challenge yourself a little, I suggest reading this book and trying to reflect on what Oates really was trying to convey with Mudwoman. I would be interested to see what others thought.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Friday, November 22, 2013

Glitter and Glue


Glitter and Glue: A Memoir
Kelly Corrigan
3.5 / 5


To Be Published 2014

First Sentence
"Growing up, my mom was guided by the strong belief that to befriend me was to deny me the one thing a kid really needed in order to survive childhood: a mother."
Publisher's Description:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Middle Place comes a new memoir that examines the bond—sometimes nourishing, sometimes exasperating, occasionally divine—between mothers and daughters.

When Kelly Corrigan was in high school, her mother neatly summarized the family dynamic as “Your father’s the glitter but I’m the glue.” This meant nothing to Kelly, who left childhood sure that her mom—with her inviolable commandments and proud stoicism—would be nothing more than background chatter for the rest of Kelly’s life, which she was carefully orienting toward adventure. After college, armed with a backpack, her personal mission statement, and a wad of traveler’s checks, she took off for Australia to see things and do things and Become Interesting.

But it didn’t turn out the way she pictured it. In a matter of months, her fanny pack full of savings had dwindled and she realized she needed a job. That’s how Kelly met John Tanner, a newly widowed father of two looking for a live-in nanny. They chatted for an hour, discussed timing and pay, and a week later, Kelly moved in. And there, in that house in a suburb north of Sydney, her mother’s voice was suddenly everywhere, nudging and advising, cautioning and directing, escorting her through a terrain as foreign as any she had ever trekked. Every day she spent with the Tanner kids was a day spent reconsidering her relationship with her mother, turning it over in her hands like a shell, straining to hear whatever messages might be trapped in its spiral.

This is a book about the difference between travel and life experience, stepping out and stepping up, fathers and mothers. But mostly it’s about who you admire and why, and how that changes over time.
Dear Reader,

I read this book in 3 days.  I suppose that says something about both its accessibility and its engagement level.  This book was, however, nothing like I'd expected.  Having never read anything by this author before, I wasn't prepared by her other works.  Amber and I got this book as an ARC at BEA 2013, and we'd both been eager to get to it, especially having met the author and gotten our books signed.  I think the title appealed to me most of all: it evoked memories of crafting - making paper crowns and wands with which to become a princess - with my own mother when I was little.

So, I guess in one way, I was (completely unexpectedly) prepared for this book: it was ultimately about the relationship between a mother and daughter, reflected upon by a daughter who has reached womanhood and her own motherhood, and therefore is trying to sort out her complicated and often frustrating relationship with her mom.  I think Kelly and her mother had an especially interesting relationship because Kelly was the only daughter in the family; having a sister to talk to and relate to might have helped her immensely during her adolesence.

They definitely did have an often-at-odds relationship, which I found fascinating to watch unfold throughout the book.  But, in the long run, I wasn't quite sure this book "gave" me anything.  There wasn't much of a resolution to the whole thing, besides that Kelly had come to the realization that she did, in fact, really need her mother.

It was interesting the way the author explained her coming to terms with this through the story of her experiences in Australia over a three-month period, when she was in her early twenties.   She nannied for a recent widower's children, and while they came to understand and manage life without their mother, Kelly simultaneously began to understand the connection she and her mother had.  While essentially child-rearing for the first time, she began to watch herself adopt many of her own mother's mannerisms.

I feel like maybe if I'd read a few others of Corrigan's memoirs, perhaps I would have felt as if this were a more complete story, one that fit in neatly with her other works to form a whole portrait of a person.  As it stood alone, though, I didn't feel like it was ... quite substantial enough.  I enjoyed the narrative, but in the end felt as if I'd just finished an article reflecting in detail on one part of one woman's life, not an entire book.  That's not a bad thing, though - just an observation.

I'd recommend this to women who struggle with the mother-daugther relationship, either with their mothers or their daugthers.  I think it was a heartwarming and entertaining book, which hit upon some good moments and did draw some great parallels between the author's situation in Australia and her situation at home.  Certainly a fun and light-hearted little read.  (Especially the relationship with her father; that was always adorable to watch.)

Yours,
Arianna

Friday, November 15, 2013

Inferno


Inferno
Dan Brown
3.5/5

Published 2013

First Sentences
"I am a shade.


Through the dolent city, I flee.

Through the eternal woe, I take flight."
Publisher's Description:

In his international blockbusters The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown masterfully fused history, art, codes, and symbols. In this riveting new thriller, Brown returns to his element and has crafted his highest-stakes novel to date.

In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno.

Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.

Dear Reader,

I know, I know.  Dan Brown is a popular novelist, and people kind of either love him or hate him.  I have to admit, I think I've read everything he's written - at least all 4 of the Robert Langdon novels.  Not for the stellar writing (I recognize that it's not) but for the awesome amount of factoids that he stuffs into his books.  It's fun to "travel" along with Langdon, seeing cities I've never visited and learning fascinating tidbits about some of the world's most famous places and pieces of art.  That is what I read these books for.  I love how startling some of the things Dan Brown knows about the cities he studies can be. These are things I'll remember for a long time, and thus I have to admit (a bit begrudgingly) that I am a fan of his books.

I certainly have some complaints, though.  For instance: we know Dan Brown writes to the common denominator - he writes for the hoi polloi, as it were.  Which means he makes everything SUPER EXPLICIT.  It can be annoying to have understood what he meant to say the first time, only to have him pound a point or revelation home several times, to ensure it's gotten across to the reader.

Another issue, along that same vein, is that there are certain characters in his books: Langdon, for one, but also in this one, a genius and child prodigy named Sienna.  She's got an IQ off the charts, right?  And yet...she acts like an idiot at times.  One of the parts that stood out for me was when Langdon was explaining a certain anagram to her, and she just could NOT seem to grasp it.  -- Really?  I got it, and my IQ is certainly not near hers.  Again, this is an instance of Brown writing to the masses, knowing that he might be read by every level of reader, and trying to appeal to them all.  I'm not saying he shouldn't do that - I am just saying that can make things difficult to read.

However, I still find all of the facts and anecdotes so interesting that the book leaves an overall favorable impression with me.  I think it's a fun escapist read, and I would recommend it to anyone, really - and most especially, I'll probably recommend it to those people I know who have traveled through Italy or Turkey, because it has to be pretty cool to read and REALLY recognize those places.  (The one based in Washington, D.C. was pretty fun for me because of that.)



All right, I've babbled on enough. Time to get to my next book!
Yours,
Arianna

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox


The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
Maggie O'Farrell
3 / 5


Published 2006

First Sentence
"Let us begin with two girls at a dance."
Publisher's Description:
In the middle of tending to the everyday business at her vintage-clothing shop and sidestepping her married boyfriend’s attempts at commitment, Iris Lockhart receives a stunning phone call: Her great-aunt Esme, whom she never knew existed, is being released from Cauldstone Hospital—where she has been locked away for more than sixty-one years. 

Iris’s grandmother Kitty always claimed to be an only child. But Esme’s papers prove she is Kitty’s sister, and Iris can see the shadow of her dead father in Esme’s face. 

Esme has been labeled harmless—sane enough to coexist with the rest of the world. But she's still basically a stranger, a family member never mentioned by the family, and one who is sure to bring life-altering secrets with her when she leaves the ward. If Iris takes her in, what dangerous truths might she inherit? 

A gothic, intricate tale of family secrets, lost lives, and the freedom brought by truth, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox will haunt you long past its final page..
Dear Reader,

Gosh, I still don't really know how I feel about this book.  I thought that it ultimately turned out to be a really interesting examination of siblinghood (is that a word?  I want it to be one) and the parallels and differences which crop up between and amongst generations.  This novel was another Overdrive audiobook find, and one which I had been looking forward to for a while, because the cover and blurb looked promising.  But, unfortunately, it was kind of a disappointing read.  It started off well, with two strong female leads (one an endearing willful child), but many messy family stories later, it felt kind of weaker to me.

I did like that two very shocking revelations weren't things I had guessed from page 1, and yet they seemed feasible enough, not out of left field.

...All right, Reader, this is silly.  I finished this book weeks ago, but haven't wanted to finish writing this review; I've let  the above sit in my drafts for what feels like ages now.  I guess that means I just don't have much to say about this book.  Hmm.  I enjoyed it, don't get me wrong, and I wouldn't advise anyone to avoid reading it.  It was a fun diverson book, but the substance of it was just a bit disappointing, considering the promising premise.  I did enjoy the period parts quite a bit; Esme was a strong, independent girl who was essentially punished for being the kind of woman many of us value today - a thinker, a reader, a woman who wanted more from life than simply to be married off.  I think I would have wanted to be her friend, had we encountered each other in childhood.  I think what might have bothered me most about the book were the parts about Iris, the bits of the book that were about the modern-day woman who seemed unmoored and uncertain about herself.  So much so that she constantly got herself into bad situations.  I guess I had hoped that her meeting Esme would have made her reexamine her own life, and perhaps it did a bit, but not enough to change her kind of whiny, self-pitying life.  There, I think I've pegged it: I did love the parts about Esme, and how her story was revealed - even the weird broken-up parts where someone was speaking in fragments and it was rather difficult to follow.  The parts about Iris, however, who I originally thought were good (she is a single woman who runs a vintage shop!) ended up just being frustrating and I felt as if they were left pretty unresolved.  Therein lies my problem with the book, I think.

All right, I'm going to sign off now so I can post this before I finish my next book!  Oy.

Yours,
Arianna

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Reached


Reached
By Ally Condie
Rating: 5 out of 5

Published 2012

First Sentence
"The Story of the Pilot: A man pushed a rock up the hill."
Publisher's Description:

Cassia’s journey began with an error, a momentary glitch in the otherwise perfect fa├žade of the Society. After crossing canyons to break free, she waits, silk and paper smuggled against her skin, ready for the final chapter.

The wait is over.

One young woman has raged against those who threaten to keep away what matters most—family, love, choice. Her quiet revolution is about to explode into full-scale rebellion.

With exquisite prose, the emotionally gripping conclusion to the international–bestselling Matched trilogy returns Cassia, Ky, and Xander to the Society to save the one thing they have been denied for so long, the power to choose.

Dear Reader,

This is the third and final book in the trilogy so spoiler alert for the following review.  The story resumes with Cassia in Central Province; smuggled back into society as covert agent of The Rising. Indy & Ky are stationed in Camis; trained as errand pilots for The Rising.  Xander is a Physic in Camis Province; lying in wait until the Pilot speaks. This book is appropriately the best in the trilogy because it brings everything to a head and shows the main characters in their fully 'reached' personalities.  It contains the turning point when the Pilot speaks and the rebellion occurs.
There are several themes that are poignant such as the teens going through the realization that their idols are not really what they once hoped them to be. Initially the Pilot speaks and it seems as though he's the real deal; that all the restricted people in the society are finally going to see a better day. The characters describe the Pilot's resonant voice  and flying abilities as the best which gives the reader hope that it's all going to turn out well. But, true to life, things start to fall apart. There's no real way to enact a revolution by saving of people from a plague without unexpected problems surfacing. The mutation proves to be the biggest threat to the Society/Rising people and no one saw it coming. Since the mutation was not anticipated or prepared for, people start to 'go still' and there is no cure. The Pilot's position in power starts to unravel and he has to make aggressive decisions to get what he needs to stay in power and save the people. The realization comes to Cassia, Ky and Xander on the airship the Pilot is piloting to the mountain villages. Ky is getting symptoms of the mutated plague and the Pilot shuts Cassia, and Xander and him in the airship cargo hold and takes off to the mountains.  Their once savior is actually just a man doing whatever he can to get what he needs. The crucial theme here is that man is flawed and power corrupts. This is the rite of passage the teens go through which heightens the drama and makes this novel valuable for young readers. The Pilot used Indy's complete faith as a tool to round up the three of them. Indy is innocent in her wholehearted belief in the pilot and doesn't realize that she's delivered them into a trap. During the flight the Pilot has left some of Cassia's trade items in the hold; the micro card and a letter from her family. The mood turns sinister when the reader realizes that he has read the message from her parents and has been keeping surveillance on her through the Head Archivist in Central. This is someone she once believed was trustworthy.  As he flies them to the mountain village he talks through the plane speaker and threatens Cassia by showing her parents lying 'still' in Kia Province and tells the teens that they are suspected of being traitors. Based on the evidence he's collected, he doesn't know if they are against the Rising or for the Rising. They are afraid of what will happen when they land; the Pilot will decide if they should be killed or used to help find the cure.  Cassia and Xander now see that no one leader is completely right and good. They have to psychologically move on, and choose to be their own metaphorical pilot. Xander sides with the mission of finding the cure to the mutation. Cassia also wants to help, especially since her parents and Ky are in jeopardy of dying from it. Ky, who has always known to not fully trust any organization is willing to run with Cassia as soon as the air ship lands.
This is a great point of suspense in the plot.
The character of Orche is another enhancement from the author because of what he represents. He proves that the society is wrong about how long a person should live, and therefore shows that the Society is not benevolent.  He is ten years older than the predetermined 80 years old. Also, he is the one that has inside knowledge of how twisted the society was.  He lived as a citizen and helped create the original plague and its subsequent cure. He tells Xander how the society and the rising are basically the same system with different names. This is a further confirmation to the reader and the main character that no one organization is pure and good and true.
In the village, N-stone, Ky has gone still with the mutation, Xander is working with Orche on the cure and Cassia is helping to sort the data. Another essential theme is how the author shows how each person in the love triangle is not to be envied. They are all in a difficult place and feel guilt and regret for the things they've done. Xander is lucky; prized for his intelligence and looks is lonely because he now knows he will never have Cassia. Cassia is sad because she loves Xander but she is more fulfilled with her love of Ky. Ky is unlucky; he was born in the outer provinces and now is deathly ill with the plague, and has a deep scars from a life hard-lived, but he does have the love of Cassia.
Finally I wanted to say that I like how the author has the characters that die from the plague say goodbye to those 'still' but not yet dead. Having Indy and Ky in their unconscious state speak to each other hints at the possibility of an afterlife, and higher meaning to their lives and deeds. Indy tells Ky in this limbo like state that she was wrong to believe the Pilot was truly her pilot in life. She is now reached in the last ether bits of her conscious when Ky tells her that she has been the pilot all along. Cassia's father who succumbs to the mutated plague also is able to say good bye to his wife when they are both in the limbo of being still.
This trilogy is a solid triumph and I would recommend it to adults and young adults alike.  Ally Condie's poetic writing style and her fantastic construction of this dystopian future is worth the read.

Yours,
Marsha

The Picture of Dorian Gray


The Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde
3.5 / 5


Published 1890

First Sentence
"The artist is the creator of beautiful things."
Publisher's Description:
Oscar Wilde's story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is one of his most popular works. Written in Wilde's characteristically dazzling manner, full of stinging epigrams and shrewd observations, the tale of Dorian Gray's moral disintegration caused something of a scandal when it first appeared in 1890. Wilde was attacked for his decadence and corrupting influence, and a few years later the book and the aesthetic dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde's homosexual liaisons. Of the book's value as autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, "Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be--in other ages, perhaps."
Dear Reader,

I was going to start this post by saying that this book was probably my least favorite of Wilde's work, but then I realized that the only things I've read by Mr. Wilde are this novel and his play, The Importance of Being Earnest.  I loved that play, so it had a lot to live up to.  And Dorian just didn't do it, unfortunately.  I had such high expectations, and Wilde certainly is a master writer, but I do feel as if his clever observations of life and quick, bantering witticisms are much  better suited to the stage than the page.  I suppose that might explain why he didn't write much prose, and why this was his only novel.  Still, I certainly am not saying it was awful by any stretch of the imagination.  I suppose what I am saying is this: for such a small book, there were long stretches of meandering examinations of the meaning of life, and I didn't really enjoy those sidebars.  I did enjoy the story as a whole; it was a very interesting study into humanity and soul and conscience.  And I do understand that the book needed both the story and the diatribes to propel it.  But...it just wasn't quite my cup of tea.  That's all!

I don't believe I need to go too into detail about the actual story of this novel: it's quite famous, if not for the book itself, then for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, right?  But it's definitely not what I expected of the book - there was very little detail about the interactions between Dorian and his painting. There was more about how the painting and the situation came to be.  And Dorian was already a pretty wicked man by the time the painting became his conscientious mirror.  I had thought there would be more story to the book, but I felt as if the exposition and the story itself were pretty evenly balanced.  Which, as I said, I found unfortunate.

Dorian Gray himself was a horrible little man, vain and upsetting in so many ways.  His friends and acquaintances were not much better, to be honest.  Wilde clearly had a superiority complex when he examined the society of his day.  As perhaps well he should have; he was a brilliant man who shunned a lot of the falsity and pandering which was the sentiment of the day.  And he did it so CLEVERLY.  I can't fault the man.  But I am, ultimately, glad that he stuck more to writing plays, which are his true forte.

I ought to go read a few more of them, though, before I can make that statement with any sort of confidence.

Yours,
Arianna

Monday, November 4, 2013

Wild


Wild
Cheryl Strayed
4/5


Published March 2012

First Sentence
"My solo three-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail had many beginnings. "
Publisher's Description:

A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. 

Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

Dear Reader,

This book has heart. I listened to this as an audiobook and the only downfall of this format was the narrator they selected. She had done a book I had read recently (this past year) that I didn't like. The Author was pretentious and it embedded in my mind with this narrator. I know that is quite unfair to the narrator but unfortunately, this is what happened. I can't say it ruined it for me, because obviously based on my rating... it didn't.

Wild is the story of a woman who had the courage and conviction to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. This trail is extremely dangerous and she did it alone. Girl power! Cheryl went through some hard patches in her life that included divorce and her mother passing away. These events brought forth a yearning for her to do something exciting and challenging. I can relate to this COMPLETELY. I went through a divorce as well, and after I struggled to find my own self. I went back to school, changed careers and then decided to leave it all to join up with Nature's Classroom and live life very differently from most people. This was refreshing and ultimately changed my life , in good and bad ways. Doing something like this is possible for everyone and I can only say that everyone should do something unexpected of them once. This is the biggest point the Author touched home with me and I think is an excellent lesson for us all.

Getting back to the book, Cheryl not only decided to hike this dangerous trail but doing it alone (as a woman) makes it ten times as dangerous. Throughout the whole book I was on edge, wondering when something really bad was going to happen. Isn't it a little sad that memoirs and biographies have done that to me? I don't know about you but it seems that most books dealing with real life events have to revolve around tragedy in order to be published. This was not the case here and even though I was still on the edge of my seat waiting... it was so refreshing to read a book that was true to the nature of the story, the wild.

Cheryl is such a strong woman to have done this, she is quite the role model. The best part about her is that she has faults, and many of them. She is not little Miss perfect, the girl with enough money and time to burn. She comes from a poor background, dropped her low income job (after saving enough money) and planned this trip with nothing left for the end except a few hundred dollars and a semi-plan to move where she ended up. Anybody who says they can't just up and leave to do an impromptu trip will be sorely mistaken after reading this book. There is such a gritty truth to Cheryl's story and now I see why the book got such rave reviews. I highly recommend you read this one.

Happy Reading,
AmberBug

Friday, November 1, 2013

Half-Blood Blues


Half-Blood Blues
Esi Edugyan
4.5/5


Published 2011

First Sentences
"Chip told us not to go out.  Said, don't you boys tempt the devil."
Publisher's Description:
Berlin, 1939. A young, brilliant trumpet-player, Hieronymus, is arrested in a Paris cafe. The star musician was never heard from again. He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black.

Fifty years later, Sidney Griffiths, the only witness that day, still refuses to speak of what he saw. When Chip Jones, his friend and fellow band member, comes to visit, recounting the discovery of a strange letter, Sid begins a slow journey towards redemption.

From the smoky bars of pre-war Berlin to the salons of Paris, Sid leads the reader through a fascinating, little-known world, and into the heart of his own guilty conscience.

Half-Blood Blues is an electric, heart-breaking story about music, race, love and loyalty, and the sacrifices we ask of ourselves, and demand of others, in the name of art.
Dear Reader,

This came so close to being a favorite book.  I so wanted it to become a favorite book.  And it was perfect in so many ways - just an excellent story - but, the problem was that in the end, it didn't profoundly affect me as much as my favorites do.  I don't think I'll soon forget it, and I think I will recommend this book to everyone whose ear I can bend in the next few weeks.  So, please don't get me wrong: it's definitely worth reading.  I would even read it again, and that is high praise coming from someone who thinks there are too many books & too little time to read them all, so I don't often reread!

The novel revolves around a WWII-era jazz band, and is narrated by Sid, the group's bassist.  It follows their movements through Europe, from Nazi-occupied Berlin to Nazi-occupied Paris and ultimately to Poland, and also recounts bits of Sid and Chip's childhood in Baltimore.  The band connects with Louis Armstrong, which is for them like meeting a god, and the author's portrayal of Armstrong is wonderful and feels very real.  The book doesn't always move quickly, but it feels as if its pace could be matched by one of their own songs: slow bits mixed up with faster bits, impassioned parts intertwined amongst the everyday middle-of-the-road bridges.

One issue I had with the story was how frustrated I felt that one big issue was never addressed - an interaction which happened between Heiro (a.k.a. the Kid) and Sid.  I felt that it propelled along quite a bit of the action, but was frustrated that the two of them never discussed it.  They sparred over the same woman, and Sid was often jealous of the Kid, and therefore they found ways to hurt each other, but ultimately, I felt they could have just talked things out.  If they'd figured out how each of them felt, and why they were at odds, they probably could have sorted out their differences and avoided all sorts of difficulties.  Ah, I think this is a guy thing... ;)

The characters were all memorable and truly lifelike.  They were flawed men and women - often petty, often misguided - who ultimately looked out for themselves, even when they had the best of intentions.  What they learned was how to also look out for one another.  Throughout the book, their music and their connection of the band was the one constant, and it really held the story together.

I had a difficult time hearing the low register of the audiobook reader, but otherwise he was very good at giving the book its rhythm and feel.  I really enjoyed listening to this book, and like I said, would definitely consider reading it again.  Very well-written.

Yours,
Arianna
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