Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Fly By Night

          I’m going to take a moment to review one of my favorite books. It's nothing recent, in fact it has been out for some time.... but it is 100% quality. 
          It is the kind of book I want to sing the praises of on the roof tops and plug to every person I know. It’s called Fly By Night, and it is by a woman named Francis Hardinge. It is about a young girl named Mosca who lives in a Victorian-inspired world where books and reading have been banned. Mosca is one of the few people who can read, but that is a dangerous skill to have. 
When she runs away from her cruel uncle, she meets the wordy con man, Eponymous Clint, and gets wrapped up in a very different world and has many adventures.
          There is also a cantankerous goose named Saracen, so you know it is going to be a fun ride. 
          Hardinge is an author who deserves a lot more recognition. Her writing is wonderfully whimsical, the wordplay out of this world, and extremely funny to boot. Reading this book is a great pleasure not only for the unique characters and interesting premise, but for the fact that every page is steeped in the most colorful, witty language I have read in a long time. 
        The story is a good old fashioned rollicking adventure, but it remains clever and multi-faceted, throughout. The world is whimsical but well built. This is a book that, for me, is an essential in any good personal library. 
        So do yourself a favor. Next time you are longing for a entertaining, smart, all around delightful read, go find Fly By Night. Go on. I'm waiting... 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review--"And The Mountains Echoed"

     I have long been a fan of author, Khaleed Hosseini, of “Kite Runner” fame, and his latest book, “And The Mountains Echoed” didn’t disappoint. Larger in scope than “Kite Runner”, it follows several interwoven characters through their lives, as they journey across the globe, from Kabul to Paris, to Greece, and America.
      In spite of being at times confusing, with sudden transitions and junctures, Hosseini manages, with his capacious talent for writing, to maintain the story arc throughout. The concept of family becomes intriguing, as does the idea of “home”, and what constitutes one’s cultural heritage. In the modern world, where very few people stay in one place, the lines are becoming blurred, and this idea is explored beautifully, with all the characters impacted, as in real life, by both internal and external forces, that help determine who they become as people.
     Poetic and meditative, with a gentle pace, “And The Mountains Echoed” is the perfect book for a rainy evening, when one is feeling introspective. Poor a cup of tea, put your feet up, and enjoy.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review--"Sharp Objects"

     Fans of Gillian Flynn's popular thriller, "Gone Girl" might have seen "Sharp Objects" on the shelf and wanted to give it a read. Be warned--deeper, darker mysteries await. Less psychological head game than "Gone Girl", and more macabre and disturbing, "Sharp Objects" is not for the prudish or righteous.
     Flawed characters abound, and ugly lifestyles loom large, not sparing the heroine, a reporter returning to her small, insular hometown to investigate some child murders. Flynn manages to build characters that seem both real and impossibly imaginary, characters whose foibles and imperfections become normal and acceptable.... a world where if everyone is crazy, then no one is.
     Ugly, violent, and warped are all fitting terms for a book where the characters themselves are, metaphorically-speaking, the "sharp objects" in question. Reading the book is kind of like witnessing a terrible accident. You want to look away, but you are compelled to gaze on in horror as circumstances unfold.
     Though I don't know if I call myself a fan of Flynn's writing, I can certainly say she bewitches readers with her words, drawing unsuspecting souls into a world where everything is askew and the way out becomes muddy and hidden. Only when she is done with you, does Flynn spit you out, sullied and shaken, yet oddly ready to return for more.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Review--Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi

Laughter, Grace, and Yoga, Oh My!

Anxiety.... it’s safe to say that every American suffers from it, at least from time to time. Attention Deficit Disorder is an affliction suffered by fewer, but one that is more frequently diagnosed in our modern culture newly fascinated with instantaneous information and governed by shorter attentions spans. 
More often than not, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is managed with drugs, joining the ranks of diseases and disorders for which an extremely expensive little pill is the promised cure. Occasionally, though, people try to manage their afflictions in a more holistic way, through diet, exercise, and other alternatives that are attempts to forego the medicated path. These attempts are met with mixed results, depending on the individual, the condition being managed, and the methods used. 
Eastern philosophies and practices have gained an increasing foothold in the western world, and meditation, bikram, and lotus position, are no longer merely exotic terms found only inside the boundaries of a bohemian commune in the rolling hills of Northern California. Yoga has hit the mainstream and every YMCA features a myriad of classes, and specialty yoga centers are on every street corner.
In his belly-achingly funny book,  “Adventures of a Garden State Yogi”, author Brian Leaf immerses the reader in the world of yoga as though narrating an episode of Portlandia. Barely two paragraphs into this charming memoir-style self-help book, one’s stomach muscles are aching from laughter as though one has spent the last half hour in plank pose. 
Yoga literacy is not necessary to enjoy Leaf’s account of his journey through the discovery of the discipline in 1989, which was, according to the author, “... before many guys did yoga. Men can now hug and cry and do yoga and drink white wine and wear an apron and cook free-range chicken picatta. But in 1989, we were pretty much hemmed in between Al Bundy and Magnum P.I.--limited to watching televised sports, eating large pieces of meat, and drinking cheap beer stored in a small fridge next to the couch.”
Landing upon a yoga class as an elective at Georgetown University (by-passing the less “exotic” choices of jazz dance, squash, and step aerobics), Leaf quickly discovers that he is exactly where he is meant to be. “Oskar’s yoga class touched the right chord and made my soul sing. I had signed up for yoga on a lark, but even in that first class, I knew what I had found.” 
What he had found, in addition to an elixir for his blossoming ADD, was a natural remedy for his colitis, which had flared up regularly since high school. Detailed in a humorous and (very) self-deprecating style, the author highlights the travails of his stress-induced gastrointestinal nightmares in a Seinfeld-esque journey to cure his chronic ailments and to, ultimately, find inner peace. 

Part road trip memoir, part spiritual guidance manual, “Adventures of a Garden State Yogi” has one “ommmming” right along with Leaf, a humorous guru who does not take himself or the practice of yoga too seriously. He performs “serious” yoga, but he clearly left his ego back in the 80’s with the “very tight spandex, neon sweatbands, leg warmers, and feather hair.” 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Review: Fever

    Typhoid Mary. It's a term that has been used enough in our culture to be familiar, but what is not commonplace is the source of the term, the real woman who bore that infamous title. I'll be the first to admit that I was unaware of the derivation of the phrase. I honestly had never really thought about it. Clearly, though, author Mary Beth Keane did give it some thought, and has written "Fever", her novel based on the tragic circumstance of Irish immigrant, Mary Mallon, who became famous in the early 20th Century for nothing more than not getting sick.
     Typhoid was rampant in the filthy urban environments of the East Coast during the Industrial Revolution. Little was understood about the spreading of disease, and the idea of cleanliness and hygiene had not taken root. Keane's fascinating account of the capture and imprisonment of the young cook, Mary Mallon, reads well and paints a vivid picture of her unfortunate life, in which the public health department of New York determined she was a threat to society, a carrier of Typhoid, putting her in confinement on an island in the East River.
    Mary Mallon emerges as a very tangible character, a strong woman with a talent for cooking and a caring nature. But, her life is turned upside down by the fear of the community, which find it is easier to hide her away as a pariah, convinced she is a health hazard.
    "Fever" brings the streets of New York alive, and reminds one that history is not just names without faces attached. Lessons can be learned by digging a little deeper and discovering the true stories beneath the names. This was a joy to read.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: The Great Gatsby

Is The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, great? 

The Great Gatsby is an incredibly well-known book. Practically every high school student is required to read it, and I am no exception.
I tried to go into this book with an open mind, seeing as the people I have met and talked to about it seem to either love it and think it is one of the most brilliant books ever to be written--or they hate it. With a passion. So where do I lie on the spectrum? 
The Great Gatsby is set in the roaring twenties, and the setting feels very rich. It is narrated by Nick Carraway, and it is about the fashionable and careless world of the time, and a very mysterious man: Jay Gatsby.
The book is written in a rhythmic, decadent style. Fitzgerald must have loved his thesaurus. It has a rather pretentious and over written feel, at least to me, but that almost enhances the tone of the book. I think it works perfectly, and some of the passages are quite beautiful. Considering I have been quoting the book as well (much to the annoyance of my mother) you could say that I liked the writing quite a lot. 
The characters of The Great Gatsby are not very likable. In fact, I did not find a single one of them to be a good person. And yet they are still compelling to read about, and despite their selfish, shallow ways, they feel realistic. 
The book was strangely intriguing to me. I can see why it can be considered boring, but much like with a soap opera, I was fascinated in spite of myself. I loved the dynamics between all these horrible people, and I loved the drama of the story. It was terribly pretentious and yet terribly entertaining. Fitzgerald even manages to interject some great humor into the short novel, and I found myself chuckling throughout the book, which I did not expect to happen. 
That being said, I didn’t love it. It won’t appear on my shelf of favorites, and I do think it is a bit overrated. There was something about America’s famous novella about the American dream that I found difficult to connect with. Perhaps it was the characters, who are not likable. Perhaps it was the plot, or the themes, or even the writing. Whatever the reason, it is never going to end up as something that I recommend to everyone I see, or will herald as one of the greatest books I have read. I liked it, and I think it made some very interesting points, but that is all the impression it made. 
Long story short, should you read it? If you want to see what all the fuss is about, sure. You may love it, or you may hate it, or simply be interested like me. But I think considering the impact the book has on pop culture, it is definitely worth reading, and beyond that, it is a good book. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Review--The Summer of France

    Who wouldn't like to spend a summer in the hills of Provence? It's the dream of many and the reality of a few. Paulita Kincer's charming escapist novel, "The Summer of France" will appeal to readers who envision themselves escaping to the picturesque environs of Southern France. Seemingly part homage to "Under the Tuscan Sun" and "A Year in Provence types of travel journals, Ms. Kincer's novel goes further, adding in layers of intrigue and family drama, and even a little hanky-panky.... this is France, after all.
    Easily read in an afternoon, this is the perfect book to take to the beach or the poolside, as you dream yourself away to the Cote D'Azur, even if you can't get there in person. Escapism, in every sense of the word.

Review--Death in the City of Light

    As everyone knows, WWII certainly has its share of horror stories, and I thought I had heard most of them. Thus, I was intrigued when I came across David King's meticulously researched account of real-world French serial killer, Marcel Petiot, who terrorized Nazi-occupied Paris, taking advantage of the tumultuous atmosphere for his own nefarious intentions. Having been born long after the 1940's, and being unaware of this larger-than-life demonic criminal, I was fascinated. Petiot cleverly exploited the conditions in Paris under Nazi occupation, and he caused the horrific death of many who were already suffering so terribly at the hands of the Germans.
    "Death in the City of Light" reads easily, and it is by no means a dry courtroom drama. That sense of being aware that something terrible is happening, yet finding myself unable to look away, is a feeling that builds throughout this compelling book, which includes photographs of the crime scene and of the farcical jury trial that followed. Petiot's disturbing countenance stares out from several of the images, and details of his intelligence and charm reminded me of that fictional counterpart, Hannibal Lechter.
     But, knowing that this madman was real makes the story that much more gripping, and his placement in one of the darkest times in modern European history made this read a captivating one. I highly recommend it.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Review--"Gone Girl"

     This book may need no introduction, as it seems to be everywhere and it is all the rage, but I'll throw my 2 cents in anyway. Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" has put a pleasant (disturbing) new twist on the world of the suspense/thriller novel. There is no political intrigue or international espionage to flesh out this tale, but rather your average domestic relationship gone terribly awry. 
     "Gone Girl" is written from the joint persecutive of the two main characters, who seem to share the roles of both protagonist and antagonist, depending on the point of view and the disposition of the reader. And the reader's feelings toward Nick and Amy Dunne definitely flit about, almost as quickly as the shifting viewpoints. What does remain steady throughout this very tightly drawn narrative, is the inkling that something is terribly wrong with these people, and things cannot end well. The "gone" part of "Gone Girl" implies more than just a literal disappearance; it reflects, too, the mental instability of one of the characters as well as the dissolving layers of this young couple's relationship. 
     If you are looking for something different, something dark and slightly askew, but thoroughly engrossing, give "Gone Girl" a go!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Books 1&2: The Girl of Fire and Thorns/Crown of Thorns

    I cracked open these books, the first two of a trilogy, with much excitement, and they did not disappoint. The Girl of Fire and Thorns and the second, Crown of Thorns, by Rae Carson, are both richly imagined fantasies set in a world filled with deceit, romance, and fast-paced adventure. Best of all, they sport a complex story arc.
  The landscape is grand and sweeping, with terrifying forests, forbidding mountains, and barren deserts. The heroine, Elisa, is refreshing and unexpected, an imperfect, over-eating princess, who sets off to fulfill her destiny, to marry a neighboring land's king to keep peace across the borders.
    Expecting her future husband to be old, fat, and unpleasant, she is surprised upon meeting her betrothed, who is equally impressed by the unexpected nature of his mate. But, married life between the two secretive kingdoms is not all comfort and romance, for there is a twist, several twists, in fact.
    Elise has something special about her, a faceted magical stone that has been part of her person since birth, but she knows nothing of managing the power pulsing from the Godstone that has the potential to topple kingdoms and turn greedy men to ill deeds. She is challenged at every turn and must dig deeply to find the strength to lead a revolution. Bravo, Ms. Carson--can’t wait for the final adventure!


Friday, February 15, 2013

Review-The Last Unicorn

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle is a fantasy classic, and I am glad I got around to reading the little gem. It tells the simple yet lovely story of a unicorn venturing forth from her woods in search of her missing comrades. A long the way, she meets an assortment of unique characters, from a wizard named Schmendrick to a fiery woman named Molly Grue. Throw in lots of magic, robin hood references, and a insane king, and you have one interesting ride.  
The writing is simply amazing. It is lush and poetic, suffused with the exact kind of magic that makes fantasy worthwhile. It is also filled with witty, irreverent jabs of humor that will have you chuckling as you read. 
The story feels very much like a fairytale, and Beagle is skilled enough to draw you effortlessly in. Indeed, it felt very much like an old fable, and I enjoyed every minute of it. All is not fun and games, however, as The Last Unicorn is filled with a beautiful melancholy atmosphere which is truly hard to describe. 
It plays effortlessly with fairytale cliches, managing to spin them into something both amusing and believable. While the pace is slow and almost delicate, it fits perfectly with the overall tone of the novel--though If you are looking for cheap thrills, I suggest you look elsewhere. For the fantasy lover or simply the avid reader,  The Last Unicorn is a book that is sure to delight. 


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review: Paper Towns

           Paper Towns is my second John Green book, and if I didn’t already love the author for his being one of the awesome Vlogbrothers, his books have sealed the deal. While I still liked The Fault in Our Stars a bit more than Paper Towns, it is an excellent book that I thoroughly enjoyed. 
          It follows the story of Quentin Jacobsen, a senior in high school who is madly in love with the absolutely fascinating Margo Roth Spiegelman. He has been content with watching her exploits from afar, until one day she shows up at his window in full ninja garb, and takes him on the one night adventure of a lifetime. And then, as soon as she came, she is gone, leaving a trail of clues that only Quentin can decipher. 
        Paper Towns is definitely a page turner as the mystery rushes to an unsure climax, leaving you unable to do anything but hold on for the ride. The characters feel like real people with real feelings, not merely cardboard cut-outs, which is a good thing in any book and refreshing to find in the YA scene lately. Also, like The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns manages to be really funny, adding to the enjoyment tenfold.  
       I can easily see why John Green’s books are so popular, as they are great--funny, poignant, and honest. I am looking forward to reading more. 


Monday, January 7, 2013

Review--Anything Worth Doing

Lifestyle choices say a lot about a person. One can be defined as a couch potato, a daredevil, or a wallflower, for example. The couch potato’s lofty goals include navigating the TV Guide each night and seeking adventure no further than a flat screen HD, 48 inch. A daredevil looks for thrills anywhere he or she can get them, often with no particular interest in the journey, the rewarding adrenaline rush being the only goal. The wallflower makes an art out of fading into the woodwork and floating through social settings on the periphery. 
Then, there are those people who do what they do in life for the simple reason that they can live life no other way--a calling, a yearning, a passion... it all comes down to the same thing; a need to live life to the fullest, no matter the risks. 
Anything Worth Doing, by Jo Deurbrouck is a story of one such life, a life lived on a river--all rivers, really, but one river, in particular, one river that tempted, rewarded, and eventually punished Clancy Reese. 
“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing” is a maxim common to adventurers, whether it is climbing the highest mountain--without supplemental oxygen, or diving the deepest blue hole, or traversing a frigid Pole, alone. This motto became the driving force for two experienced professional rafting guides, Jon Barker and Clancy Reese, as they embarked on an epic journey, 900 miles of the tumbling, churning, and meandering white waters of the Salmon, Snake, and Columbia Rivers, from their shared source to their final bow at the Pacific Ocean.
Securing the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award, Jo Deurbrouck has landed herself in good company, alongside such masters of adventure literature as Farley Mowat, Greg Child, Joe Simpson, and Henry David Thoreau. While the author’s narrative succeeds in bringing to life a larger-than-life individual, Clancy Reese, the main character is the river, itself, which lives powerfully on every page, through each triumph and up to the ultimate tragedy. 
A lovingly built dory, a speed-record goal, and two devoted men of the river, all help make Anything Worth Doing a gripping account of a rapidly disappearing world, where rivers spill uninhibited and eddy through one of the last remaining expanses of wilderness of the Western United States. Clancy Reese spent a decade in a romance with the mighty Idaho headwaters, and Jo Deubrouck’s homage to his adventurous spirit is a book most definitely “worth doing”.