Cloud Atlas Readalong: Final Post

Saturday, March 31, 2012


Cloud Atlas: Final Post
by David Mitchell
★★★★☆

What a ride! This was not an easy book to read, but for me it was well worth the effort. Mitchell’s amazing skills as a writer allowed him to take on half a dozen different characters, locations, time periods and still link them all together in a cohesive way. It was enough to leave me reeling.

As we learned in the first half, the book is split into six very different sections. The first five sections stop abruptly in the middle, each one stair-stepping into the next. Then the sixth section, Sloosha, offers a complete story and we work our way back through the five sections in the opposite order, ending where we started with Adam Ewing.

The complicated web of interlocking tales leads us on a wild journey through time and across continents. Here’s a brief breakdown of the sections.

Sloosha’s Crossin’ An’ Ev’rythin’ After
(an old story being told)

Told from the point-of-view of Zachry, who is part of a primitive culture on Hawaii, Sloosha’s section had a difficult to read dialect. Zachry tells of their culture, which worships the god Sonmi. He also mentions Adam multiple times and he meets Meronym, the last of her race.

“Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an’ tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same, it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud’s blowed from or who the soul’ll be ‘morrow? Only Somni the east an’ the west a’ the compass an’ the atlas, yay, only the atlas o’ clouds.”

An Orison of Sonmi~451
(seen as a hologram interview by Zachry)

I found Sonmi’s section to be especially interesting. When we left her, she was on the run and she was learning the truth behind what really happens to fabricants after they “retire.” She witnesses the killing of a fabricant living doll, which underlines the cavalier attitude the purebloods have towards fabricants. We learn more about fabricants in this section, including the fact that they are created to die within 48 hrs if they haven’t had any soap (their food).

Everyone is told that fabricants get to go off into a happy retirement village after they serve 12 years of slave labor. But, as Sonmi finds out, they are actually murdered and recycled as the “soap” food that is fed to fabricants and also as pureblood food. It’s all very “Soylent Green.” This realization elicits the first real response from the archivist who has been interviewing Sonmi. At this point, she does more than ask questions of Sonmi, she shows some shock and outrage at the accusation. She bursts out, “No crime of such magnitude could take root in Nea So Copros,” which shows us just how shocking the accusation is.

*Also, in this section someone is described as “quasi-Falstaffian” which cracked me up.

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish
(watched as a movie by Sonmi)

At the end of his first section, Cavendish has been checked into a retirement home with no way of escaping. A nurse straight out of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is in charge and she has no intention of letting him out of her grasp. Then Timothy and a few other patients at the nursing home devise a plan and in one wild sitcom-style car ride they crash through the gates and flee. They all start new lives outside of the home.

This section was hilarious! It had, by far, the best one-liners in the book. There’s a bit where Timothy is reading the story of Luisa Rey (which he, a publisher, has received as a manuscript) and mocks it, saying it’s “hippie-druggy-new age.” I loved this cheeky joking because Mitchell is teasing us within his own book about his plots. He points out flaws and holes in the story while we are still reading it!

“A Scot can turn a perfectly decent name into a head-butt.”

“A Titus Andronicus catalogue of threats beat at the door.”

“Ruddy hell, when your parents die they move in with you.”

“Middle age is flown, but it is attitude, not years, that condemns one to the ranks of the Undead, or else proffers salvation.”

Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery
(read as a manuscript by Timothy)

Luisa survived the car crash that ended the first section, but she’s nowhere near being out of danger. She gets fired from her job, which just lets her know she’s closer than ever to uncovering something big. Then, she once again narrowly escapes death when assassin Bill Smoke rigs a bank safety deposit box with explosives.

While on the run, Joe Napier saves Luisa’s life to repay a debt to her father who saved his life years earlier. She is also saved by a woman working in a sweatshop who says something to her in Spanish (anyone know what she said?) So Luisa makes it out of the whole thing alive.

Side note: Sixsmith’s boat is moored in a dock that also has the preserved and restored Phophetess schooner, which Adam Ewing travels on! Each time I made one of these connections, and there are dozens, I got a little thrill. Also, Sixsmith’s daughter, Megan, lives in Hawaii, but I’m not sure any reference is made to that in any other sections.

“Courage grows anywhere, like weeds.”

Letters From Zedelghem
(letters to Sixsmith read by Luisa Rey)

Robert Frobisher’s time in Belgium is complicated when he falls in love with the daughter of the woman he’s having an affair with (while helping her syphilitic husband work on his compositions). It has a distinct “Graduate set in the 1930s” feel to it. He gets his heartbroken and decides to kill himself after finishing his masterpiece.

Frobisher big contribution to the overall plot is the Cloud Atlas Sextet he composes, which mirrors the structure of the novel. The musical piece has six separate solos that are arranged just like the stories within Cloud Atlas.

“Cloud Atlas Sextet holds my life, now I’m a spent firework; but at least I’ve been a firework.”

“Anticipating the end of the world is humanity’s oldest pastime.”

The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing
(a journal read by Frobisher)

After a lot of pontificating about the local life on the island the ship has stopped at Adam finally realizes Dr. Henry Goose has been slowly poisoning him to death. Goose is attempting to steal the money and belongings (estate papers) Ewing keeps locked in his trunk. He convinces Adam that he’s got a worm in his brain, so he’ll continue to take the “medicine” he gives him. Autua, the stowaway that Adam saved in the first section, stands by him even after Goose casts him aside, and rescues him from the poisons and takes him ashore.

END OF RECAP

(Images from Cloud Atlas the movie, being released later this year.
I believe this is their version of Sonmi and Luisa Rey)

Since posting on the first half, I’ve heard that Mitchell confirmed the fact that each of the main characters who share the comet birthmark, are reincarnated souls. He didn’t explore that element as much as I thought he would in the second half, but it was still interesting.

One continuous theme throughout the book seems to be the way society treats those they have power over. In Sonmi’s section it’s the fabricants, in Timothy’s it’s the elderly, in Luisa Rey’s it’s less obvious, but we still see how those who have the power of information treat those without it. As Dr. Goose said “The weak are meat the strong do eat.”

The fascinating thing about this book it that it takes that concept and tosses it on its head. Each time a person, organization, government, etc. take advantage or another person or group, one seemingly insignificant individual manages to stand up against them. Sonmi-451 fought back, Luisa Rey stood up for what was right, even though she knew she might die doing so, Autua protected Adam Ewing and saved his life, etc.

The very end of the book redeemed some of the tough sections for me. Adam sums it all up when he has an epiphany and talks about how selfish may be ugly in a person, but in an entire society, it will destroy everything. We are left with the understanding that each new section in the book was another glimpse of the way our selfish society and creating its own destruction. By the time we got to Sonmi’s section it was the most obvious, because the society had failed to even appreciate other living beings anymore. The next inevitable step was “the fall” in which the world was destroyed.

I will say that I wish the book didn’t begin and end with Adam Ewing’s section. I think it’s an awful deterrent to anyone trying to start the book and it makes for an underwhelming finish. That being said, I think the effort is worth it. It’s not that each of the stories is so amazingly good, it’s that the structure and the writing are unlike anything else I’ve experienced and having to work so hard definitely made me appreciate it more.

I’ll leave you with a few bits from the beautiful passage that wrapped up the end of the book…

“Belief is both a prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind’s mirror, the world. If we believe humanity is a ladder of tribes, a colosseum of confrontation, exploitation & bestiality, such a humanity is surely brought into being, & history’s Horroxes, Boerhaaves & Gooses shall prevail…. One fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself… In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.”

QUESTIONS:
So what did you all think was it worth it?

What was your favorite section?

Do you think Mitchell intended us to think of each story as fictional, just part of another story (i.e. Luisa Rey was just a manuscript Timothy reads and Timothy was just a movie Sonmi sees, etc.) or was each one real?

What major points/connections did I miss?

Thank you all for joining in on this readalong and a big thanks to Care for hosting it with me. I had so much fun!

Leave the links to your posts in the comments and I’ll add them all in!

Fizzy Thoughts

Images of Cloud Atlas movie from here and here.

Reading the States: Idaho

Friday, March 30, 2012



State: IDAHO

Fiction:
- All Over Creation by Ruth L. Ozeki
- Then Came the Evening by Brian Hart
- America: God, Gold, and Golems by James Sturm
- Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
- Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
- Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk
- Lila* by Marilynne Robinson

Nonfiction:
- Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America by J. Anthony Lukas
- The Boys of Boise by John Gerassi 
- King of the Mild Frontier by Chris Crutcher

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Ezra Pound
- Robin Blaser
- Carol Ryrie Brink
- Marilynne Robinson
- Jack Hemingway

Great Bookstores:
*Books I've Read

Photo by moi.

Rainbow Valley

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Rainbow Valley
by L.M. Montgomery
★★★★

This is the seventh book in the Anne of Green Gables series, but the Blythes are actually minor characters in this novel. The story focuses more on the widowed minister, John Meredith, and his children, especially Faith and Una. They girls are friends with the Blythe children and they all play together in a place they call Rainbow Valley.

There were so many funny misunderstandings in this one. At one point, Faith and Una get mixed up about what day of the week it is and they miss church, which causes a big scandal in the little community. Every time they try to stand up for their father they end up making things worse. There’s also a pair of older, unmarried sisters they find themselves with unexpected suitors.

The first chapter of the book had me laughing out loud. Anne and her house keeper Susan are talking about gossip and their back and forth banter is just hilarious. There’s also a little orphaned girl named Mary who’s quite a pip. She was abused in her foster homes and is on the run. Her bad language and general worldview seem to get everyone in trouble.

This one was much funnier than some of the other books in the series, but it’s not my favorite. I missed Anne, Gilbert, and some of the other characters I’ve grown to love so dearly. This one felt like it wasn’t really part of the series, but I still enjoyed the story. Even when Anne isn’t the central figure of the story, Montgomery has a way of making you love the characters in her books.

“When that over-harbour doctor married the undertaker’s daughter at Lowbridge people felt suspicious of him. It didn’t look well.”

“We miss so much out of life if we don’t love.”

Wordless Wednesday: Civil Rights Memorial Center

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Civil Rights Memorial Center in Alabama

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

The Hunger Games

Tuesday, March 27, 2012



The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
★★★★☆
 
I read The Hunger Games before I started blogging, which means, before I heard the hype. I’m sure that had an effect of my opinion of it. One friend recommended it to me, but there was no ground swell of obsession at that point, so I was surprised by just about everything in the book and I loved it. I recently reread it, to refresh my memory before the movie’s release, and I was happy to find I enjoyed it just as much the second time around.
 
Here’s the basic premise, Katniss Everdeen lives in a dystopian society called Panem. It’s split into 12 districts, each one of which has its own unique aspects (fishing community, coal mining, etc.). Each year a lottery is held and one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen to compete in the annual Hunger Games. The 24 “tributes” must then fight to the death on live television, while the rest of the world watches. When her young sister Prim is chosen as a tribute, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

The plot includes elements of everything from Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” to gladiator fighting, but it still manages to feel completely unique. The characters are unforgettable. I usually have trouble remember who is who when I pick up a second book in a series months after reading the first. That wasn’t the case here. Each person stood out distinctly in my mind; Haymitch, the drunken former tribute, Cinna, the quiet designer, etc.

I particularly loved Katniss as a character. She’s one of the main reasons I enjoyed the book so much. There are so many characters that give us great examples of the emotional struggles that go hand-in-hand with extreme trials, but she is not one of these. She is hard and distant. She has been made this way because of the role she was thrust into. When her father died, her mother shut down and Katniss either had to find a way to provide for her mother and sister or she had to watch them die. Her strength and logically way of thinking is something much more relatable to me. She is not soft and emotional and there’s no reason she would be in this society. It feels so much more realistic.

It was always a bit frustrating to me that people made a big deal of the so-called love triangle in the series. To me, that was always a tiny subplot, not a focal point. Gale and Peeta are both interesting characters, but the story is one of survival, not which one to she has a crush on at the moment.

For me, Hunger Games isn’t about love triangles or even dystopian societies. Those are all aspects of the story, but the heart of it is the struggle of one young woman. Obviously her struggle to survive in District 12 and in the games, but it’s also about her struggle to become an adult at a young age, to deal with an unreasonable amount of responsibility, to reconcile her instinct for survival with her emotions, and her desire to make a better life for herself and her family. The book conveys this wonderfully and makes it impossible for me to put it down.
 
p.s. I saw the movie this weekend and I loved it. Of course there are going to be things to criticize and I didn't love all of the casting, but overall I thought they did a wonderful job. I also liked seeing some of the things that were going on outside of the arena, with Seneca and in District 11 and 12. I thought that added a great element to the story. So if you are interested in it, definitely go see it!

Image from here

Mini Reviews: Pairing Books with Movies 4

Monday, March 26, 2012


The Kalahari Typing School for Men

by Alexander McCall Smith 

★★★☆



This is the fourth book in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. I read the first three in 2005 and enjoyed them, but haven’t felt the need to pick up another. I came across this one at a library book sale and thought, why not? 



Mma Ramotswe and her assistant Mma Makutsi are still running the detective agency. Mma Makutsi is trying to find a way to supplement her income and Mma Ramotswe is still adjusting to life with two new foster children. 



The book moves slowly, unlike most mystery novels. They are more about life in Botswana, which moves at a leisurely pace, then about solving a huge case. Sometimes I enjoy this, but other times I just want something to happen. The books include interesting characters, but I feel like you never really learn much more about them as the series progresses. 



As with the other books, I enjoyed this one alright, but I don’t feel I need to read the next book. If you love these books, then this one will be no exception. But if, like me, you just aren’t swept away then this one is not really worth picking up. 



“She knew that she would have to be extremely careful, this clerk wasn’t bright and people like that could show a remarkable tenacity when it came to rules.”


Pair with a viewing of Roar!: Lions of the Kalahari (40 min. documentary from National Geographic) and Veronica Mars (A TV show with another great female detective)


This Year It Will Be Different

by Maeve Binchy 

★★★★ 



I’m such a sucker for Binchy’s books. I tend to like her novels more than her short story collections, but this one was perfect for December. There are 15 stories, all with some Christmas theme. That being said, they aren’t sweet cheerful stories, that’s not really her style. There’s the tension of a blended family, a broken heart, a newly married son, an unexpected trip to New York, and so much more. Each one gives us a quick glimpse into the lives of someone new. 



The way the Binchy writes is just perfect for this medium. You don’t need 300 pages to get to know the characters. In the matter of a few paragraphs she’s given you the flavor of their lives and that’s all you need. I will always return to her books as comfort reads. 



“It was so easy to be wise about other people's business.” 



Pair with a few of Binchy’s other novels that have been made into films: Circle of Friends and Tara Road

Reading the States: Hawaii

Friday, March 23, 2012


State: HAWAII



Fiction:

- The Descendants* by Kaui Hart Hemmings
- Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
- Hawaii by James Michener
- The Bottle Imp by Robert Louis Stevenson
- Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore
- Sisterchicks Do the Hula* by Robin Jones Gunn,
- From Here to Eternity by James Jones

- Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

Nonfiction:

- Unfamiliar Fishes* by Sarah Vowell
- Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz
- Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama
- Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands by Gavan Daws
- The Colony: the harrowing true story of the exiles of Molokai by John Tayman

Authors Who Lived Here:

- Allegra Goodman
- Lois Lowry
- David Gallaher



Great Bookstores in the State: 

Native Books

*Books I've Read




Photo by moi.

A Room of One's Own

Thursday, March 22, 2012


A Room of One’s Own

by Virginia Woolf

★★★★☆


This famous publication originated as a series of lectures given by Woolf at two women’s colleges in 1928. She talked about women’s role in literature and their potential for creation vs. their actual ability to produce based on their status and income. She gives the wonderful example of William Shakespeare fictional sister Judith. If a woman came from the same station in life that Shakespeare did, what options would be available for her? Would she have had the freedom to write and act in plays? No, of course she wouldn’t. Women weren’t even allowed to perform back then, much less publish their work.


The essay examines whether women were capable of producing, and in fact free to produce work of the quality of William Shakespeare, addressing the limitations that past and present women writers face. When one has no money, one hardly has the time or energy to pursue their passions. Instead they must work each day to feed their families and survive.


“…how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in.”


It’s easy to take these things for granted in the 21st century. Women may not have perfect equality in the work field, but we can work and we have rights that others were denied for centuries. Many of the female authors who stand out in previous centuries usually had to choose writing over children and sometimes over marriage (like Jane Austen, the Brontes, only one of whom married, etc.) Nowadays we can choose whether we want to marry or have children or a career or travel or all of the above. Because of this, we have so many more female writers than past centuries have held.


My favorite thing from the book was her comment about how each novel is built on all the work that preceded it. I think she’s right and that it holds true for both men and women in literature. Societies can’t help but incorporate the strides made by others into the development of current work.


“Without those forerunners, Jane Austen and the Brontes and George Eliot could no more have written than Shakespeare could have written without Marlowe without Chaucer, or Chaucer without those forgotten poets who paved the ways and tamed the natural savagery of the tongue.”


I really loved the book. It made me think and made me appreciate all that women have had to go through to get us to this point. It also made me want to do all that I can to take advantage of that freedom and perpetuate it for women around the world.


“Suppose, for instance, that men were only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers; how few parts in the plays of Shakespeare could be allotted to them; how literature would suffer!”


“By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourself of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip into the stream."


For a more in-depth look at the book and its impact visit Things Mean a Lot or A Room of One’s Own and read their eloquent thoughts.

Wordless Wednesday: Fishermen's Bastion

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Fishermen's Bastion in Budapest, Hugary

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Books on my Spring To-Be-Read list

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for my Top Ten Books on my Spring To-Be-Read list. I’m on a United We Read (UWR) committee and we meet once a month from March to June, so many of my Spring reads are from that committee. I’m so excited about many of the books, but that’s how they made the list.

1) The Submission by Amy Waldman - (UWR)

2) A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines - (UWR)

3) Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo - (UWR)

4) Chocolat by Joanne Harris (UWR)

5) When She Woke by Hillary Jordan - (UWR)

6) Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson – Do any of you read Lawson’s blog? She is hilarious! So I was excited to find out I’ll be getting an ARC copy of her memoir in the mail sometime soon. Here’s a link to one of my favorite of her posts.

7) Literary Brooklyn by Evan Hughes – An ARC copy that’s shamelessly never made it to the top of the TBR stack.

8) Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – In the next two months I’m throwing a bachelorette party, planning a 60th birthday surprise for my Dad, attending my 10 year high school reunion, I’m a bridesmaid in my brother’s wedding, planning a trip to Tennessee, Wisconsin and Montana and about 2 dozen other fun things. It will be a very busy spring and I have a feeling I’m going to need a comfort reread of some Austen.

9) Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss – It’s been on my list forever.

10) The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin – I’ve heard about this author for years and have yet to read anything by her. That must be remedied.

Do you guys highly recommend any of these? Should I bump them up the queue?

Image from here.

Mini Reviews: Pairing Books with Movies 3

Monday, March 19, 2012


Kindred

by Octavia Butler

★★★★



When this book was published, a few decades ago, it gained fame because it was the first sci-fi book written by a black woman. I loved that the book began with a bang; it hooked me from the first pages.



Dana, a twenty-something black woman living in the 1970s, finds herself pulled back into time. She ends up meeting her ancestors in 1800s Maryland, when slavery ran rampant and the Civil War was still a ways off. She returns time and time again to the same plantation where she is often stuck for weeks or months, unable to control her ability to travel in time. I thought it was wonderful that Butler used the platform of time travel to study the life of a slave from the point-of-view of a black woman from the 1970s.



The set up of this book really made the reality of slavery hit home for me. Dana is just as disturbed by what she’s seeing as the reader is, which makes it particularly powerful. She begins the book looking down on the slaves in some ways, because she thinks they just need to stand up for themselves. Soon she realizes how hopeless their situations can be. Running away will get you beaten when you’re caught. Resisting the master will just make your life harder and may encourage him to sell your family members. It’s a tragic cycle and it begins to break her spirit as well.



I think it’s fascinating that Butler chose to have Dana marry a white man in the 1970s. The beautiful dynamic of their relationship is strained in that decade, but once they are thrust into the 19th century they must find a whole new balance. Her husband, Kevin, is kind and devoted, but their situation is incredibly stressful. 



The white son of the plantation owner, Rufus, is the reason Dana is continually drawn back in time. He is her distant relative and she first meets him when he’s a little boy. Watching his transformation from innocence to bitter maturity is, by far, the most powerful and painful part of the book. Like Dana, we have such hope for him, but at the same time, it’s easy to see how he is just a product of his environment. 



This is my first book by Butler and while I enjoyed it, I’ve heard some of her others are a bit stranger. I may hold off before reading more from her, but I would definitely recommend this one.



The Great White Hope

by Howard Sackler

★★☆ 



This Pulitzer-Prize-winning play didn’t thrill me. I’m sure it’s much better on stage, but on the page it feels dated. The plot is a fictionalized retelling of the real life boxer Jack Johnson. He found success during the Jim Crow era and became the very first African American world heavyweight boxing champion. 



The play focuses heavily on his white girlfriend and the controversy their relationship caused. He was actually sent to jail because of the relationship at one point. 

I had a hard time getting past some of the language, for example… 



“Stop beatin on de cullud.” 



“You juss nacheral.” 



“Git de wimmins inside.”



I think this is just one those plays that does a wonderful job representing a period in time, but after a few decades it loses its punch. 



Pair both books with a marathon of films covering some of the history of racism in America: Amistad, Glory, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night, Do the Right Thing, American History X

Cloud Atlas Readalong: Midway Point

Friday, March 16, 2012


I’m going to discuss plot points from the first half, so don’t read unless you’re up to page 237!

Welcome to the first post on our Cloud Atlas readalong! Care is hosting the midway check in here so go check that out. I’m just going to chat about some of my thoughts from the first half of the book.

The book is split into different sections, each one in a different time period and with a very different cast of characters. Let’s begin with the first section…

The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing

We begin in 1850 with Adam Ewing. He’s on a ship at sea and there is the possibility of a brain parasite. Then, just as I was starting to get interested, the chapter stops abruptly, midsentence in fact. (I was reminded of how the book within The Fault in our Stars ended). I’ll admit, I flipped forward in the book and checked the names of the headings to see if Adam’s story was ever picked back up. Thankfully it does.

Honestly, the first 40 pages of the book bored me to tears and I was dreading the rest of it. BUT, then I reached the second section and it just took off. So if you’re picking this one up for the first time, please keep reading past this section, otherwise you’ll never get a real feel for the book.

Letters From Zedelghem

Next, we venture into 1931 with a composer, Robert Frobisher. His section is done in an epistolary style and the letters are all written to his friend Rufus Sixsmith. Frobisher gets himself into all kinds of situations when he moves into a chateau in Belgium to help a famed composer continue his work. Frobisher provides us with rich doses of sarcasm and scandal and it was exactly what I needed after the Adam Ewing snooze fest.

Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery

In the third section we get to meet Rufus Sixsmith about 50 years after the letters have been written. He’s managed to get caught up in the midst of a conspiracy. He’s written a report that his company will do anything to keep hidden. A journalist, Luisa Rey, lives in his apartment building is drawn into the fray after an unexpected elevator meeting leads him to offer her an interview.

In this section I was reminded of A Visit from the Goon Squad. We are starting to get a small taste of the scope and interconnectivity of the novel and it has a similar feel to that book. The stories are all somehow connected, though it might not be evident exactly how at first. They also skip around in time, picking up the thread of the story decades later on a different continent.

I really liked Luisa section. We get to meet a sweet boy next door with a rough home life, we catch up with Sixsmith who we only know as the recipient of the letters in the last section, we meet the scientist Isaac Sachs who knows about the controversial report, we see the assassin Bill Smoke and get caught up in the mystery with Luisa. We also get a reference to a sextet written by Frobisher.

There are also a few odd things that pop up in this section and indicate the deeper mystery of the book. Luisa discovers one of Frobisher’s letters that describes his comet-shaped birthmark and realizes she has an identical one in the same spot. She also has some déjà vu moments that led me to believe Mitchell was suggesting she was Frobisher reincarnated. As I read each chapter and started catching references to the previous chapters it felt a bit like the characters were talking about some other book I’d read at a different time. I loved that.

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish

Moving on, Timothy Cavendish is an editor who has a surprise best seller on his hands when its author cavalierly murderers a literary critic at a party. I couldn’t help thinking how much fun it would be for an author to plan the demise of a snooty critic in their book. This part felt a bit like a movie. It had a run in with a mob-like gang and a farcical trip to a retirement home. Cavendish is a cranky man with some hilarious quips about the world around him. For example, this is how he describes some teens he sees on the street…

“A trio of teenettes, dressed like Prostitute Barbie.”

An Orison of Sonmi~451

This section was perhaps the most interesting so far. It’s sometime in the future and a “fabricant” (a creature created to serve humans, possibly a clone?) is being interviewed by a historian of sorts. The fabricants’ name is Sonmi~451 and in this futuristic world, she worked as a content slave before gaining an enlightenment that made her aware of the world around her. She began to pursue knowledge and as she did so, her contentment drained away.

“Fabricants are mirrors held up to purebloods’ consciences; what purebloods see reflected there sickens them. So they blame you for holding up the mirror.”

In this world, the governing force is called Corpocracy and the “purebloods” are in change. They often experiment on the fabricants and this cruel practice is treated as normal,

“No one cared if an xperimental fabricant or two “got dropped” along the path of scientific enlitenment.”

The language in this section is often written phonetically. So flight is spelled flite and explanation becomes xplanation.

It was interesting to see Sonmi~451’s progression through learning. She makes a comment about how strange it is that the social strata in the world used to be “based on dollars and curiously, the quantity of melanin in one’s skin.” Whereas she is judged for being a fabricant even though her looks would allow her to pass as a pureblood. Also, each pureblood must spend a fixed amount of money each month and hoarding is considered an “anti-corpocratic crime” so that stature can never be gained form wealth.

One line that was interesting to me is the following…

“One’s environment is a key to one’s identity.”

How very true this is! It made me think of how deeply our expectations are affected by the world we live in. If someone is raised in a third world country in a life of poverty, they aren’t going to assume they’ll go to college. If they’re raised in the Midwest instead of NYC, they’ll probably think they are supposed to marry and have kids by the age of 30. It’s not that we have to do those things; it’s just that being in that environment is going to impact the way you see the world and your role in it.

I thought this section provided such an interesting view about what “normal” is. It changes with each generation and culture and I wonder what things we are currently doing that will seem horrible to future generations.

Here are a few fantastic quotes from the book so far…

“His words slip like Bambi on ice.”

“Despondency makes one hanker after lives one never led.”

“Perhaps those deprived of beauty perceive it most instinctively.”

So all in all the book has absolutely hooked me. I think the birthmark thing is particularly interesting and I’m excited to see how that plays out. Even Sonmi~451 had the birthmark! I’ve heard this book described as the literary equivalent of a Russian nestling doll and I think that’s particularly true. Each section is intriguing on its own, but it’s part of a bigger picture and

What do you all think so far about the plot and the unique structure?

What do you love/hate about the book?

Up next we have the section titled “Sloosha’s Crossin’ An’ Ev’rythin’ After” and then we return to each of the previous sections to revisit the characters. I can’t wait to see where this crazy book takes us next!

Silver on the Tree

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Silver on the Tree
by Susan Cooper
★★★★

**This review won’t make much sense if you haven’t read the rest of the series**

This is the final book in The Dark is Rising series and I’ll admit, it was sad to say goodbye. Everything has been building to the final battle between the dark and the light and this book provided a satisfying conclusion. For me, the action sequences have never been the draw. It’s the relationships that make the series a success and in this book, all the characters are together for the first time. Of course, when everyone is finally together there’s a bit of rivalry, but that would happen with any group.

Will has really grown as a character, balancing his life as a young man and as an Old One can’t be easy, but it seems like he has matured. His role in the series is actually pretty tragic. It broke my heart when Will tells his brother who he really is and his brother doesn’t believe him. He then has to make him forget what he said. It seems like the people who fight for what’s right often lead such lonely lives.

This book features some wonderful new characters, like Gwion, and some intense scenes, like Will and Bran being chased by the skeletal horse. There’s also a great scene where Will and Merriman travel back in time to when the Romans were in Britain. Also, Jane’s role becomes vital in this book, because she and the Grey Lady are both females, so they have a special connection.

One of the aspects I’ve enjoyed the most from this series is the way the “Dark” attacks people. It’s not about violent attacks or brute force; instead they plant seeds of doubt and prey on people’s fears. They manipulate and tempt and those are much more effective ways of getting what you want. It’s much easier to stand strong against a physical attack than it is to resist the idea that you aren’t good enough or that someone has betrayed you.

One thing I wished I’d known about the series before I began it is that there is a central cast of characters, but they aren’t in every book. The main characters include Simon, Jane and Barney Drew, Merriman Lyon, Will Stanton, Bran and a few others. The first book features the Drew sibling, we don’t meet Will until the second book and the Drew siblings aren’t even in that one. Bran doesn’t show up until the fourth book, etc. It all comes together in the final book, but I think I would have enjoyed the second book much more if I had stopped waiting for the Drew siblings to appear.

All-in-all, I really enjoyed the whole series, especially the references to the Arthur/Merlin legend. I wish I’d read them when I was young, but I’m glad to discover them now.

“‘Why should some of the Riders of the Dark be dressed all in white and the rest all in black?’

Will said reflectively, ‘I don’t know. Maybe because the dark can only reach people at extremes, blinded by their own shining ideas or locked up in the darkness of their own heads.’”


Wordless Wednesday: Mussels

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Trying mussels for the first time in Baltimore.

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Victorian Novels

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for my Top Ten books in the genre of my choice. I decided to do Victorian novels, because to complete the Victorian Literature Challenge last year I read 15 books from that period and I have a few others I already loved.

The Victorian era is usually defined as the lifespan of Queen Victoria, who reigned from 1837-1901. Books published during these particular years and authors who lived during this time usually fall in the “Victorian” category. I’ll also add that there are still many Victorian novels that I haven’t read yet, so if you don’t see your favorite here, tell me I should read it soon!

1) David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)

2) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)

3) The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

4) Middlemarch by George Eliot (1874)

5) Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)

6) Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

7) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)

8) The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881)

9) The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1859)

10) Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (1851)

Image form here.

The Classics Club

Monday, March 12, 2012


I am officially joining The Classics Club! Jillian at A Room of One's Own came up with the wonderful idea of starting a classics club. We each make a list of 50, 100, 200, etc. books we want to read that are considered classics. This is a five year project and we just update as we go. I'm always reading classics anyway, so I was thrilled to hear about it.

The club basics:
  • choose 50+ classics
  • list them at your blog
  • choose a reading completion goal date up to five years in the future and note that date on your classics list of 50+ titles
  • link your classics list to Jillian's blog
  • write about each title on your list as you finish reading it, and link it to your main list
  • when you’ve written about every single title, go to Jillian's blog and reply to your initial comment when you joined, to let us know you won
If you want to see the books I've chosen, I've posted my list of 100 books on a new page here. I'm giving myself a completion date of March 9, 2017, 5 years from now. Let the classic reading begin!

Reading the States: Georgia

Friday, March 9, 2012


State: GEORGIA



Fiction:

- Gone with the Wind* by Margaret Mitchell
- The Color Purple* by Alive Walker
- Cold Sassy Tree* by Olive Ann Burns
- The March by E. L. Doctorow
- Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman,
- The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter* by Carson McCullers
- A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe
- The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
- Cane by Jean Toomer

- Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry
- Quite a Year for Plums by Bailey White 

Nonfiction:

- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil* by John Berendt

- Dahlonega Haunts: Ghostly Adventures in a Georgia Mountain Town by Amy Blackmarr
- 
Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind by Ellen F. Brown
- A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by James Melvin Washington
- Mama Makes Up Her Mind: And Other Dangers of Southern Living by Bailey White
- Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn: A Saga of Race and Family by Gary Pomerantz
- The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr* by MLKJ

Authors Known for Writing about the State:

- Flannery O'Connor
- Joshilyn Jackson
- Joel Chandler Harris 

Authors Who Lived Here:

- Margaret Mitchell

- Frances Mayes
- Philip Yancey
- Laura Lippman
- Alice Walker
- Sue Monk Kidd
- Martin Luther King, Jr.


Great Bookstores in the State:
Bound to be Read Books

*Books I've Read




Photo by moi.

The Hobbit

Thursday, March 8, 2012


The Hobbit
by J.R.R. Tolkien
★★★★★

The first time I read The Hobbit I was in fourth grade and my family was taking a road trip to the east coast. I remember a few things about that trip, but mainly I was lost in the dark paths of Mirkwood forest and the rocky ledges of the Misty Mountains. I re-read the book when I was in high school and loved it just as much. So I felt a bit of trepidation about re-reading it as an adult. I was worried it would seem childish and the magic would be gone from its pages, but I quickly discovered I had nothing to worry about.

The book was just as wonderful this time around. It’s such a great adventure. Tolkein created an entire world, filled with hobbits, dwarves, elves and trolls, which was completely foreign to anything I knew. When Gandalf and 13 dwarves (Thorin, Dori, Nori, Dwalin, Balin, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Kili, Fili, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur) show up in the Shire, everything changes for Bilbo and for the readers.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is that our hero is a complete anti-hero. Bilbo doesn’t want to go on an adventure. He has no desire to leave his home, but somehow he is swept up along on the journey and he discovers that a tiny corner of him has always longed for a quest.

“‘We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them,’ said our Mr. Baggins.”

(The 2012 Hobbit movie and 1977 cartoon version)

Gandalf flits in and out of the story, but he always appears when he’s needed the most. He’s always been one of my favorite characters in literature. He can be cryptic and mysterious, but he’s also a true friend, a wise leader and a warrior. He never gives up and his hope gives hope to others.

The dwarves are so different from the hobbits. Their driving force is a love of money. They aren’t bad, but they have an interesting moral code. Thorin, the group’s leader, puts them all in danger because of his obsession with the precious stone Arkenstone. They aren’t too dissimilar from Smaug, the dragon who stole their wealth, except that the dwarves only want what they see as rightfully theirs.

“There it is: dwarves are not heroes, but calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don’t expect too much.”

Gollum is, in my opinion, the most interesting character in the book. We know almost nothing about him, but we are at once enthralled and horrified by him. Bilbo has a similar reaction. It’s important to note that he feels pity for Gollum, which foreshadows the events in Lord of the Rings.

“A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering.”

(A drawing of The Hobbit on a postcard my uncle sent my Mom from Sweden in the 1970s)

A few things I'd forgotten about the book:

1) Beorn, the bear man., somehow I completely forgot this character!

2) Bilbo was more than 50 years old when the adventure began.

3) His mom’s name was Belladonna and his Dad’s was Bungo, how fantastic is that!

4) The dwarves love and value music and each one had an instrument that they played.

5) The thrush is really the unsung hero of the novel. Without the help of that bird, the dwarves could have been stranded in the mountain with no hope of defeating Smaug.

While some people find the Lord of the Rings hard to get through and overwhelmed with descriptions and details, The Hobbit is a quick read. It was targeted at a younger audience and so it’s much more accessible. If you’ve ever been curious about Tolkein’s world, this is the place to start.

One side note, I can’t wait for the movie to come out this December! Have any of you seen the cartoon version (image above)? I grew up watching it and as I was reading the book I kept remember songs from it.

p.s. Someone built a Shire in Montana… no seriously!

Photo of postcard by moi.

Images from here and here

Wordless Wednesday: London Eye

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


The London Eye

More Wordless Wednesday here.

Photo by moi.

Top Ten Favorite Covers

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


This week's Top Ten from The Broke and the Bookish asks for Top Ten Covers and I'm going to give you ten of my favorites from my own library, starting, of course, with the Penguin Hardcovers. I've been collecting these for 2 years now (slowly), but have 12 of them! I'm sure there are many other great ones, but these are a few that come to mind for one reason or another.




Do you guys have any favorites?

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Monday, March 5, 2012


Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
by Winifred Watson
★★★★☆

This book is just utterly charming. A frazzled governess responds to a job posting only to find herself thrown into a world of glitz and glamour. She’s quickly caught up in the beautiful, but irresponsible Delysia LaFosse’s crazy life. Multiple suitors, beautiful gowns, and drinks at all hours of the day leave Miss Pettigrew in a happy haze. She’s overwhelmed at first, but the decides to savor every moment; each drink, every bite of ice cream and the feel of her luxurious borrowed velvet dress. After a life of ordinary years, she's embracing this extraordinary day.

The thing that made this book work so well for me is Miss Pettigrew herself. She is so sweet and sincere, but she’s also completely baffled be the situation she’s stumbled upon. She's completely out of place in this foreign social scene but she's also delighted by it. Even though she's only known Miss LaFosse for a few hours, she's becomes a loyal and protective friend.

Her innocence also allows her to be more upfront than others are. She answers questions with a stark honesty that’s both startling and refreshing to her new friends. I love that she discovers she has an unexpected streak of spunk and she’s a bit saucy.

The supporting characters, especially Joe, were all so much fun. Michael, Nick, Phil, Miss Dubarry and Tony, we meet them all over the course of one day in Miss Pettigrew’s life. My lovely Persephone edition has small illustrations that made the book even more enjoyable. It’s a quick read and felt like the literary equivalent of drinking champagne, all bubbling bliss.

There are a few incredibly racist lines (aka don’t marry him, he looks a bit Jewish and you should stick to your own kind), but for a novel published on the 1930s that's pretty normal. It still makes me sad every time I come across it though. What stupid prejudices we develop as a society.

The story of how the book came to be back in print is just as wonderful as the novel itself. One woman’s mother introduced her to the book at a young age. She took it with her to college, lent it to a friend and eventually recommended it to Persephone as a potential book for their new collection. She was then hired to write the introduction and while researching the author, she realized the 93-year-old woman was still alive and she had the chance to meet and interview her! What a testament to the impact a book can have on a single individual. If not for that woman’s love of the book, I may never have had the chance to read it. You never know where the journey of reading a new book will take you.

I was left wondering what other literary gems have fallen by the wayside over the years. I'm grateful for publishers like Persephone for trying to bring some great ones back into circulation.

“‘Then you don’t believe the wedding-bells should sound like closing-time?’ asked Michael with rising spirits.

‘Though an outside observer, I’ve been on the inside of many marriages. This old-fashioned idea of settling down on marriages,’ lectured Miss Pettigrew carefully, ‘is quite right in its way, as long as the right couple settles down together. But if the right couple don’t wish to settle down, they do not cease to be right.’”

“Miss Pettigrew felt the most glorious, exhilarating sensation of excitement she had ever experienced, ‘This,’ thought Miss Pettigrew, ‘is Life. I have never lived before.”

Reading the States: Florida

Friday, March 2, 2012


State: FLORIDA
Fiction:
- Their Eyes Were Watching God* by Zora Neal Hurston
- Darkly Dreaming Dexter* by Jeff Lindsay
- Because of Winn-Dixie* by Kate DiCamillo
- Paper Towns* by John Green
- The Yearling* by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
- Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
- Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard
- Done Deal by Les Standiford
- To Have & Have Not by Ernest Hemingway

Nonfiction:
- The Orchid Thief* by Susan Orlean
- Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston 
- Marley and Me* by John Grogan

Authors Known for Writing about the State:
- Carl Hiaasen
- Patricia Cornwell

Authors Who Lived Here:
- Dave Barry
- Ernest Hemingway

Great Bookstores in the State:

*Books I've Read

Photo by moi.