Anthology, Fiction, Reviews, Short Stories

One Horn to Rule Them All

One Horn to Rule Them All: A Purple Unicorn Anthology

Unicorns, with their single ivory horn, are elusive and magical creatures of myth. Yet even more elusive are the purple unicorns. First sighted at the Superstars Writing Seminar, their legend has grown year after year until it could only be contained in this anthology. Nineteen storytellers, including Peter S. Beagle, Todd McCaffrey, and Jody Lynn Nye, as well as new and rising authors, invite us into worlds both near and far, across a desert oasis, a pet shop, a Comic-Con exhibition floor, and more, and show us the many variations of purple unicorns, from the imaginary to the actual—and one very memorable half-unicorn, half-potato. One Horn to Rule Them All is an unforgettable collection of imagination and creativity. So, saddle up, and take a ride beyond the rainbow. 

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I didn’t mean to start reading another anthology so soon on the heels of Undercurrents. But while taking care of my neighbors’ cat, I found myself having to wait for the cat to come out from behind the bookshelf. Picked up one of their books to pass the time and wanted to choose something I actually owned…because you know, it would have been too much work to walk back across the street and get my own book.

Anyway.

Purple unicorns it is!

If you follow me on social media, you know I kind of have a thing for unicorns. And kind of absolutely love that unicorns are a hot trend right now. Which makes One Horn to Rule Them All an anthology that was years ahead of its time.

Overall, I really liked this anthology and not just because of the unicorns. I thought all of the stories inside were great in their own way and there were a couple that got me interested enough to look up the authors to see what else, if anything, they had written that I could buy. There were also some very, very imaginative stories in this mix which was neat. I liked the stories in Undercurrents, but I felt like there were some genuinely wacky concepts that worked amazing well in One Horn to Rule Them All.

As another fun treat, my friend (and neighbor) has a story in this anthology that she’s been expanding on…and we got to read it in writer’s group over the summer!

Fiction, Non-Fiction, Reviews, Uncategorized, Year in Review

2016: The Year of the Good Book

2016 IN REVIEW:

2016 was a lot of things to a lot of people, but one thing it was to me personally was The Year of the Good Book. I may have had whiplash from the terrible things, bad news, and even worse luck that rained down on us this year, but at least I had many wonderful books for comfort!

HOW MANY BOOKS READ IN 2016?

– 75 books

FICTION/NON-FICTION?

–   52 Fiction /    24 Non-Fiction

MALE/FEMALE AUTHORS?

–     35 Male /   23 Female

OLDEST BOOK READ?

-The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

NEWEST BOOK READ?

The Honor Was Mine by Elizabeth Heaney

LONGEST BOOK READ?

The Dark Tower by Stephen King

SHORTEST BOOK READ?

The Heart of the 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman

ANY IN TRANSLATION?

In Praise of Darkness by Jose Luis Borges

BEST BOOK READ IN 2016?

This was so hard for me to do in The Year of the Good Book so I’m cheating a little on this answer:

Best Stand-Alone book: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Best Trilogy: Red Rising series by Pierce Brown

Best Series Longer Than 3 Books: The Dark Tower series by Stephen King

MOST DISAPPOINTING BOOK IN 2016?

Winter Street by Elin Hildebrand-Ugh

MOST BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN BOOK IN 2016?

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

MOST SURPRISING (IN A GOOD WAY!) BOOK OF 2016?

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – I had no idea what kind of book I was signing up for, but I thoroughly enjoyed it!

MOST THRILLING, UNPUTDOWNABLE BOOK IN 2016?

Red Queen, Red Rising, The Girl on the Train, Library of Souls, Shatter Me, The Dark Tower series

BOOK THAT HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON ME IN 2016?

The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang

BOOK THAT HAD A SCENE IN IT THAT HAD ME REELING?

Every book in The Dark Tower series, Red Queen, Morning StarCity of Mirrors

BOOK I MOST ANTICIPATED IN 2016?

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin and The Last Star by Rick Yancey

MOST MEMORABLE CHARACTER IN 2016?

All the main characters from The Dark Tower series: Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake, and Oy

HOW MANY RE-READS IN 2016?

One, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

BOOK I READ IN 2016 I’D BE MOST LIKELY TO REREAD IN 2017?

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard – King’s Cage comes out in 2017!

BOOK I RECOMMENDED TO PEOPLE MOST IN 2016?

The Success Principles, The 5th Wave, All the Light We Cannot See, The Martian, Red Rising, Red Queen, The Passage, The Dark Tower

FAVORITE NEW AUTHORS I DISCOVERED IN 2016?

Pierce Brown, Victoria Aveyard, Leigh Bardugo, Stephen King

MOST BOOKS READ BY ONE AUTHOR THIS YEAR?

Stephen King, with 8

FAVORITE COVER OF A BOOK I READ IN 2016?

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Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley

FAVORITE PASSAGE/QUOTE FROM A BOOK I READ IN 2016?

“There’s nothing fated in our stars. No meant-to-be in any of it. We are accidental people occupying an accidental planet in an accidental universe. And that’s okay. These seven billion billion atoms are good with that.”-Rick Yancey, The Last Star

“The road and the tale have both been long, would you not say so? The trip has been long and the cost has been high… but no great thing was ever attained easily. A long tale, like a tall Tower, must be built a stone at a time.” -Stephen King, The Dark Tower

“All his life he had wanted to be known by just one person. That’s what love was, he decided. Love was being known.”-Justin Cronin, The City of Mirrors

“Justice isn’t about fixing the past, it’s about fixing the future. We’re not fighting for the dead. We’re fighting for the living. And for those who aren’t yet born.”-Pierce Brown, Morning Star

“Survival is insufficient.”-Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

DID I COMPLETE ANY READING CHALLENGES OR GOALS IN 2016?

Yes! I read 75 books, up from my original goal of 50 books for 2016.

BOOK I CAN’T BELIEVE I WAITED UNTIL 2016 TO FINALLY READ?

Many-Red Queen, Red Rising, Station Eleven, The Girl on the Train, Six of Crows, The Dark Tower series

Reviews, Uncategorized

The Honor Was Mine

A very special post today on Isle of Books, as we remember the fallen on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. For all those who serve at home and abroad. For all those civilians who have lost their lives to terrorists. And for all those who gave their lives in service to their country. We remember you.

The Honor Was Mine by Elizabeth Heaney

When therapist Elizabeth Heaney left her private practice to counsel military service members and their families, she came face-to-face with unheard-of struggles and fears. Emotions run deeply—and often silently—in the hearts of combat veterans in this eye-opening portrait of the complex, nuanced lives of service personnel, who return from battling the enemy and grapple with readjusting to civilian life.

Presenting the soldiers’ stories—told in their own words—as well as her own story of change, Heaney offers an intimate perspective, not of war itself but of its emotional aftermath. Some of these stories scrape the bone; others are hopeful, even comical. Every one reveals the sacrifices of those on the front lines and the courage, grace, and honor with which they serve.

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(Book provided in exchange for an honest review)

When I was first contacted about reviewing this book, I admit I was very apprehensive. I don’t normally read memoirs. I almost never read books about war. And I never read books about the soldiers who fought in those wars.

I’m so glad I said yes to this one. The Honor Was Mine is a profoundly touching look at the soldiers who fight for our country.

In reading this book, I realized how little I really knew about our military. It’s only within the past couple years that I’ve gotten to know a few active duty and recently returned military service members. But even that is not on the level of what this book takes you to. She takes us deep into the complex emotions of those that have served and those that have stayed behind.  In particularly moving section, the author writes, “When soldiers deploy, there are theoretically three possibilities: (1) they come home, (2) they come home changed, or (3) they don’t make it home at all. But in reality, only the last two options occur.” The Honor Was Mine is a book about a war and the soldiers who weather the storm of change.

The author’s own personal journey as a military counselor is intertwined with the many stories of service members and their families. Heaney takes us into a side of the military that is rarely glimpsed by the public. We get to know a little bit about how the bases operate, what life is like for soldiers “downrange”, the military spouse community, and most strikingly, the work that is done to return a deceased soldier’s effects to their family. This last was especially eye opening. I never thought much about what happens to the belongings and I especially didn’t consider that someone, somewhere, was taking the time to wash and dry their clothing, polish their shoes, and scrub their belt buckle clean.

The content it itself is tremendous, but so is the writing. The author has a great command of language and the organization of the book and the chosen subheads result in a book that is hard to put down.

This book should be required reading for all Americans! I hope this book gains the attention it deserves!

 

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Dystopian, Fiction, Reviews, Uncategorized

9 Best Dystopian Fiction Novels

Since I did a roundup of the 9 Best Apocalyptic Fiction Novels a few weeks ago, I had to follow that up with my picks for best dystopian fiction novels.

As I mentioned in the first post, I draw a distinction between dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. To reiterate, in my opinion, a dystopian novel is one that puts forth the notion of a flawed utopia, which usually occurs after a great disaster. You can normally identify a dystopian by the presence of a strong government or ruler.

Merriam-Webster defines “Dystopia” as:

An imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives. An anti-utopia.

One of the first dystopian novels I ever read, and probably the most famous of the few that existed before The Hunger Games started a dystopian YA fad, is George Orwell’s 1984. 1984 definitely sparked my obsession with dystopian fiction. I’d read The Giver and Among the Hidden by that time, but it wasn’t until 1984 that I knew what these types of books were called and thus how to track down more of them to read. And 1984 also kicks off my list of the 9 Best Dystopian Fiction Novels!

9 Best Dystopian Fiction Novels

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1984 by George Orwell

Winston Smith works for the Ministry of truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent – even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101 . . .

My Take: This is the one that started it all for me. Relatively simple in its composition and ideas, 1984 nonetheless possesses that special something that endures and permeates our culture.

You can read my full review of 1984 here.

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.

When 16-year-old Katniss’s young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. , she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

My Take: I really enjoyed this series overall. I liked the story, but I also liked that Collins wasn’t afraid to shy away from violence. Once they hit high school, I believe teenagers are old enough to contemplate the big ideas of our world, the pretty and the not-so pretty.

You can read my full review of The Hunger Games series here.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

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In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

My Take: It’s rare these days that a book makes me stop to look up a word, but Divergent made me stop and look up two!! Abnegation and Erudite. This was overall a great series, but I can’t say I saw the direction the third book would take us in and that absolutely shocking death! Also, I’m still a little jealous of how young Roth was when she wrote this and gained international acclaim. Her and Victoria Aveyard.

You can read my full review of Divergent here.

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Matched by Allie Condie

In the Society, officials decide. Who you love. Where you work. When you die.

Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one…until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia is faced with impossible choices: between Xander and Ky, between the only life she’s known and a path no one else has ever dared follow—between perfection and passion.

My Take: This was a beautifully written series. Most of the books on this list sacrifice more lyrical prose in favorite of plot and action. The Matched series has plenty of plot, a little less action, and plenty of beautiful writing.

You can read my full review of Matched here.

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Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Ninety-five days, and then I’ll be safe.
I wonder whether the procedure will hurt.
I want to get it over with.
It’s hard to be patient.
It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet.
Still, I worry.
They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness.
The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.

My Take: I still haven’t finished this series, I just recently picked up Pandemonium. But this was another book I really enjoyed and I’m excited to see where the series goes. It also inspired by my love for this E.E. Cummings poem: [I carry your heart (I carry it in].

You can read my full review of Delirium here.

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Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

My Take: This is one of the more recent books I’ve read on my list and one I’ve raved about. I haven’t finished this series yet either, but I will soon.

You can read my full review of Red Rising here.

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The Giver by Lois Lowry

In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newbery Medal winner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.

My Take:

This is probably truly one of the first dystopian novels I ever read, though I didn’t know it at the time. I often forget about this one when I’m thinking of Dystopian novels. I probably need to do a re-read of this one. I also read Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son, but I remember The Giver as being my favorite of the four.

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Uglies by Scott Westerfield

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world– and it isn’t very pretty. The authorities offer Tally a choice: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. Tally’s choice will change her world forever…

My Take:

This is a great dystopian series from the pre-Hunger Games craze. Many books on this list came out in the wake of The Hunger Games mania, but this series pre-dates that. This is by far my favorite series by Westerfield.

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Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Luke has never been to school. He’s never had a birthday party, or gone to a friend’s house for an overnight. In fact, Luke has never had a friend.

Luke is one of the shadow children, a third child forbidden by the Population Police. He’s lived his entire life in hiding, and now, with a new housing development replacing the woods next to his family’s farm, he is no longer even allowed to go outside.

Then, one day Luke sees a girl’s face in the window of a house where he knows two other children already live. Finally, he’s met a shadow child like himself. Jen is willing to risk everything to come out of the shadows — does Luke dare to become involved in her dangerous plan? Can he afford “not” to?

My Take:

I honestly don’t know if I read this or The Giver first, but this is another series I often forget about. Both because I read it so long ago and because it’s aimed at a bit younger audience. I read all the rest of the books in this series and enjoyed them. I should probably reread this as well.

Anything you would add to my list? Leave me a comment below!

 

Fiction, Reviews, Thriller, Uncategorized

Cascadia

By H.W. “Buzz” Bernard

Dr. Rob Elwood, a respected geologist, has studied the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a dangerous fault off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, for years. Now he’s having repeated nightmares of a massive earthquake and tsunami striking the region. Knowing he’s placing his reputation and career at risk, he goes public with his premonitions.

The quake fails to occur and Rob fears he’s lost everything. But the disaster does strike, just not when expected, and Rob finds himself not only vindicated, but hurled abruptly into a life-and-death rescue mission with his private aircraft.

Rob’s story intersects with several others, including that of a retired fighter pilot attempting to make amends to a woman he jilted twenty-five years earlier, and another of an elderly black man searching for legendary buried treasure along the rugged Oregon coast.

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(A copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review)

I’m a huge fan of action movies. Even if someone tells me it’s a bad movie, I’ll still go watch it because, as long as things are blowing up, how can it really be a bad movie? I’m not expecting an Oscar-winning film. Just to see special effects and things set on fire.

The beginning of Cascadia was a bit heavy-handed with the explanation of earthquakes and how they work, etc, though I definitely walked away knowing more about earthquakes than I did before. I also wish more time had been spent introducing the main characters before the earthquake hit. But like I said, I’m not expecting Pultizer prize-winning writing. I just want to be entertained.

And I was! This book is very exciting and is everything you could want in a disaster movie, er, book. Widespread devastation, high stakes, narrow escapes, ordinary people turned heroes, it’s all here.

Jonathan and Zurry were by far my favorite characters. I love a good treasure hunt story and the fact that this was a sub-plot in a disaster story made it even better.

The only part I really couldn’t get my head around was the plotline with Cassie. It seemed very out-of-place and didn’t do much for the story.

Overall, a very enjoyable read that would be great for summer!

 

Fiction

The History of Love

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

Leo Gursky taps his radiator each evening to let his upstairs neighbor know he’s still alive. But it wasn’t always like this: in the Polish village of his youth, he fell in love and wrote a book. . . . Sixty years later and half a world away, fourteen-year-old Alma, who was named after a character in that book, undertakes an adventure to find her namesake and save her family. With virtuosic skill and soaring imaginative power, Nicole Krauss gradually draws these stories together toward a climax of “extraordinary depth and beauty”.

This book is definitely in the running for my favorite book of 2013. Just a beautiful, beautiful novel.

Exactly the kind of thing you don’t want to be reading when you’re trying to edit your own novel. But I digress.

This is a novel I can see myself reading over and over. I’m actually itching to read it again because the storyline is a little confusing. It’s told from multiple viewpoints, in different styles, during different points of history, and all scrambled together.

But somehow, it just works.

Without giving much away (because really, you should just go read this book) I liked all of the characters, all of their individual stories, and how they pull together into a whole. I especially love the chapters that were dedicated to Alma Singer. I like the style of tiny vignettes. And the sections that were purported to come from The History of Love were also amazing. I wish it was a real book I could go off and read and die happy reading.

But most of all, I loved how quotable this book was. You could drop it open to any page and find something worth underlining. Truly. Nicole Krauss is an amazing writer and I look forward to reading more of her work.

I also think I just found a new literary hero.

Side note: Someone recommended this to me and I have no idea who. If you think it was you, please let me know!!

Fiction, Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most

As always, TTT is hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten books I recommend the most…perfect!

1. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

2. Hyperion by Dan Simmons

3. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

4. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

5. 1984 by George Orwell

6. The Passage by Justin Cronin

7. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

8. Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

9. Empire Falls by Richard Russo

10. The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

Fiction, Reviews

American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Released from prison, Shadow finds his world turned upside down. His wife has been killed; a mysterious stranger offers him a job. But Mr. Wednesday, who knows more about Shadow than is possible, warns that a storm is coming — a battle for the very soul of America . . . and they are in its direct path.

My first Neil Gaiman novel! Hurrah! If you haven’t already, check out this stupendously awesome address! So for months, I’d been hearing about Neil Gaiman from my friends (yes, I know he’s prolific and I know he’s been around, but apparently I’ve been living under a rock. Sue me.) Next up, my list includes Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, and Fragile Things. Neil Gaiman also wrote Stardust, which just happens to have been turned into one of my favorite films (again, I realized this recently. Basically made me even more excited for my first Neil Gaiman experience). If you’ve never seen it, go watch it. It’s amazing. Seriously. Watch the whole thing.

I’m always impressed by people who have such an interest in and a command of mythology. It’s so vast that anyone who chooses to undertake projects that deal with it directly gets my vote. I find it interesting myself, but I confused/mixed-up too easily. At least for formal learning. I tend to learn more and more by default the older I get.

What I enjoyed most about this novel was how Gaiman played with reader conceptions. Some things that happen in the novel are very expected. But instead of seeming trite and cliched, they work. It’s almost as if, by giving the reader some givens, Gaiman can go further and do more with this crazy universe he’s creating. And as you read, in no place do you catch the tell-tale signs of a lazy author. Everything is methodical and thought-through. There are places where one sentence contains an unexpected detail that connects back elsewhere in the novel, without ever being directly dealt with. That probably didn’t make sense. But if you’ve read or when you readAmerican Gods, you’ll see what I mean.

One friend told me that one thing that bothered her about this novel was that Shadow isn’t really a character you can relate to or connect with. But I came away thinking that’s okay. I don’t think you’re supposed to connect with Shadow. It’s not really a book about Shadow. It’s a book about mythology and the intersection of old and new. It’s also about the clash of the rustic and the rural with the industrial and the city. In this way, I don’t think it matters whether we relate to Shadow or not. He’s there so that the story can exist, but he’s not the base of the story. If that makes sense. Shadow tends to go along with most things without really putting up much resistance. On the one hand, I see why, and on the other hand, I don’t. I think it’s this tendency in Shadow that makes him hard to relate to. People are kind of ornery and stubborn by nature. Shadow is extremely compliant. But, after all, he’s called Shadow. The general definition of a shadow is:

-A dark figure or image cast on the ground or some surface by a body intercepting light.

And that is Shadow, to the utmost extent. He’s somewhere between a person and a non-person, somewhere between death and life, always in between, trailing, on the margins.

You see what I mean about Gaiman being a careful writer?

Fiction, Reviews

The Marriage Plot

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

It’s the early 1980s—the country is in a deep recession, and life after college is harder than ever. In the cafés on College Hill, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels.

As Madeleine tries to understand why “it became laughable to read writers like Cheever and Updike, who wrote about the suburbia Madeleine and most of her friends had grown up in, in favor of reading the Marquis de Sade, who wrote about deflowering virgins in eighteenth-century France,” real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes. Leonard Bankhead—charismatic loner, college Darwinist, and lost Portland boy—suddenly turns up in a semiotics seminar, and soon Madeleine finds herself in a highly charged erotic and intellectual relationship with him. At the same time, her old “friend” Mitchell Grammaticus—who’s been reading Christian mysticism and generally acting strange—resurfaces, obsessed with the idea that Madeleine is destined to be his mate.

Over the next year, as the members of the triangle in this amazing, spellbinding novel graduate from college and enter the real world, events force them to reevaluate everything they learned in school. Leonard and Madeleine move to a biology Laboratory on Cape Cod, but can’t escape the secret responsible for Leonard’s seemingly inexhaustible energy and plunging moods. And Mitchell, traveling around the world to get Madeleine out of his mind, finds himself face-to-face with ultimate questions about the meaning of life, the existence of God, and the true nature of love.

Are the great love stories of the nineteenth century dead? Or can there be a new story, written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups, and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding understanding of and affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the Novel, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like the intimate journal of our own lives.

In the months since its publication, this novel has been making the rounds on the blogosphere. Even before it was released, it drew meteoric buzz as a result of Eugenides’s previous novels, including The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, the latter of which received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. This was my first encounter with a Eugenides novel and I can safely say that I was not in any way disappointed.

My roommate read this novel a few months ago. She was already a great fan of Eugenides. I had read the buzz about the novel, the reviews on the internet and in magazines. But it wasn’t until she started to tell me about it that I really perked up. Point One: It’s a novel about post-grads in the midst of a recession. Point Two: The main character is an English major. Point Three: She and others spend an intensive amount of time studying and discussing semiotics and literary theory. Point Four: Mental health is a central component of the novel.

Upon delving into the pages, I was surprised to find how human the characters are. This is something that is oft repeated when discussing novels. But in this case, I felt it in a way that I’d never felt it before. All three of the central characters are annoying. And impossibly endearing. Multiple times I wanted to reach into the novel and smack them up the side of their heads. And always, I continued onwards.

That the writing was wonderful, beautiful, and deliciously precise is no surprise. What was surprising was the way the novel drew me in. In love, I think, there are two main ways it manifests itself: either suddenly and impressively like a hurricane, or so slow and tepid that by the time you realize it’s there, it’s too late to think of disentangling yourself from its embrace, if you even wanted to. The second describes this novel. There’s nothing that I can particularly point to that hooked me. Just that, as I went about my life, my thoughts would return over and over to the novel and I’d wait excitedly for the few moments I had before bed to give in to it. Eventually, I was in deep and took to carrying it around and reading it at the bus stop and on the bus (even though I get horribly carsick).

The final thing (among multitudes of things) that I found interesting about the work was the way in which mental health was discussed and dealt with. MINOR SPOILER: One of the characters is a manic-depressive, or, bipolar. I like to think that now, in the second decade of the 21st century, we’ve moved away from taboos and into something like acceptance of mental illness. But I don’t think we have. I’m taking a class at the moment on the writing of illness in narratives. After several years in a college lit department and hanging around other writers and poets, I am of the opinion that most people with an interest in the arts have at least the barest vestiges of something not quite wired right in their brain. Myself included. I could write an entire post about my speculations about these connections and the ways in which these “flaws” become strengths, but I won’t. Eugenides’s novel takes place in the eighties, before the days of the pharmaceutical industry and its ready plethora of drugs to treat this, that, and the other. For this character, the only treatment available to him is dosing with lithium. Which he despises. But, there are no other drugs to try.

I knew I wanted to read this novel because I knew there were never be a better moment in my life to do so. In the three central characters, I found a threefold manifestation of my own journey. There’s the student with no clear direction, the student who decides to travel the world, and the student who immediately proceeds into academia/work. That we are also in the midst of a time of recession and higher unemployment (though recently, I have begun to feel that people in my year are luckier than years past) does not escape me. As I prepare to launch out into the world, I am seized with an overwhelming desire to soak up as much fictional takes on the post-grad experience as I can. To that end, I’ve even rescued a novel draft from my own personal slush pile and have resumed work on it, seeking to write a novel about that weird point in your twenties when you feel everything and nothing is on the table, when everything and nothing has already been decided. The mystical quarter-life crisis? Perhaps. Though I suppose I’m too young still even for that.

As I contemplate my own college graduation next weekend, I find myself paralyzed with fear and paralyzed with hope. It’s like an escalator: no matter if you’re going down or up, you don’t have to do a thing because it carries you inevitably to your destination. I hope I’m going up.

Fiction, Reviews, Uncategorized

Lolita

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Awe and exhiliration–along with heartbreak and mordant wit–abound in Lolita, Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love–love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation. 

I’ve now read this novel twice and my opinion of it has not altered. Lolita is quite the masterpiece. It takes sheer talent to make the reader root for a character they should absolutely hate and despise. A middle-aged man obsessed with a child? Pedophilia. But also, something else. The most impressive thing about the novel, which particularly struck me the first time I read it, is how skillfully we’re drawn into Humbert’s world. Some criticism argues that Lolita’s ‘voice’ is eradicated from the novel and we never get a sense of who she is. I think it’s there though. Very subtly, it’s there.

Th novel is primarily about Humbert. And Nabokov’s writing is excellent. Sophisticated and eloquent, the writing alone makes up for any moral repugnance in the plot. And I do have to say, I very much enjoyed the plot of Lolita. The story is clever and interesting how Humbert rarely makes many decisions. Outside circumstances are constantly at work, opening and closing pathways. Some narrators bulldoze a path through their world and others let the path come to them. Humbert is one of these.

I’ve been analyzing this novel in conjunction with Stanley Kubrick’s take on Lolita. My research has illuminated something quite interesting. Spoiler alert: Humbert’s love for Lolita is what ultimately makes this novel redemptive. Out of something bad/morally wrong, you get something right and true.

The thing about this novel is that it’s really not for everyone. It always bothers me when people go and read a novel and come back with, “It’s racist, it’s anti-Semitic, it’s patriarchal, it objectifies women” etc. Much is to be made of context and knowing what the book is about before you sit down to read it. So much of these social/moral problems in texts stems from the time period in which it was written. Your nineteenth century American novel is racist? Shocker. Your seventeenth century British novel has weak female characters? You were expecting something different? I think when you read something, you should always know what you’re getting into. I don’t think there’s anything worse than calling out a book on something that is either fundamental to what it’s trying to do or fundamental to the society/time period in which it was birthed. Lolita was scandalous for its time, no doubt about that. I just don’t want anyone to come back and say, that novel was disgusting why ever did you recommend it? See all of the above.

There are two Lolita films: the Stanley Kubrick and the Adrian Lyne. I’ve only seen the Kubrick and I highly recommend it. It’s an extremely non-erotic take on the Humbert/Lolita story. Kubrick’s film is very comedic and entertaining. If you haven’t seen it, go and rent it. I’m planning to see the other one at some point, though I’ve essentially heard, “There’s a good Lolita film and a bad one”.

Happy reading my friends!