Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Era of Coronoavirus and Social Distancing: Another Mark on the Millenial Generation

There's a lot to fear in a pandemic. Some days the anticipatory grief is so overwhelming, to keep from crying I resort to naming off five physical objects in the room. This, ladies and gentlemen, is coping in the age of social distancing and Coronavirus.

And I'm not even the most heavily hit; I lived a relatively isolated life before all of this. I've always been an independent introvert, and I live up in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina. In the middle of a hill, to be precise. My nature is a solitary one for the most part as I work from home and spend my free time writing fiction. I have a small group of amazing friends that I am eternally grateful for and have been able to share the emotional weight of isolation with all of them. It helps. If you're feeling lonely, reach out. A text, a good old fashioned phone call, or this newfangled technology of FaceTime and Zoom.

I see the extroverts around me beginning to sink beneath the weight of limited contact. More than that, there is the anticipatory grief of imagining that were we to get sick and need to be hospitalized; we would be absolutely alone. We would face death and fight for our lives isolated from everyone we love. It's a terrifying notion. One that threatens my daily sense of peace.

This is only the first month.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Book Response: "Parable of the Talents" Book 2 of the Earthseed Series by Octavia Butler

Have you ever picked up a book that seems like you were meant to read it at that particular time in
your life? Like, the book finds you and feeds your soul? It's one of the beautiful things that can happen to book readers. Less beautiful, but still filled with awe - recognizing an unfolding of events in a story written years ago that mimic what is happening in your own time. Case in point: Octavia Butler's "Parable of the Talents."

I picked up the first book in Butler's Earthseed series, "Parable of the Sower" as dystopian genre research for publishing my own dystopian saga. The first book in the series takes place on the West Coast as people take to walking the roads as civil unrest boils over and resources are depleted in southern California. It's a desolate picture of income inequality and global warming reaching a tipping point.

In the second book in the series, we pick back up with main character Lauren Olamina and her followers years after we leave her at the end of book one. The group has built a community, called Acorn, that all rests on the Earthseed principles that Lauren has been preaching. Earthseed is a religion based on fundamental truths about God. The first line in most of the passages is "God is Change," and Lauren means this quite literally. The world is built on impermanence and change and why wouldn't the force behind such a constant state of "becoming" be considered God?

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Book Response: "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" by Carson McCullers

I knew what I was walking into when my book club chose "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" by Carson McCullers for this month's discussion. I read the book eleven years ago, and I can still remember the feeling when I turned the last page. I remember feeling as though I had experienced something profound, but I wasn't quite sure how to articulate it to others. Since my book club isn't meeting for several more weeks, I figured blogging my thoughts would keep them more organized for later discussion.

If you've ever seen the movie Love Song for Bobby Long, McCullers' book features prominently as a bonding device for disparate and isolated characters. That seems right to me given that the story follows five characters that feel disconnected from everyone around them. Isolation is a prominent theme in the book, and it's interesting that these characters even seem to sabotage or turn away from opportunities to express themselves and experience genuine connection with others. McCullers captures the modernist plight of man in an industrialized society, specifically in the south in the years following The Great Depression.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Book Review: "The Lacuna" by Barbara Kingsolver

I'd like to start out by saying that I am a fan of Barbara Kingsolver. I have now read all of her novels, sans her nonfiction work and essays. I had just finished listening to her narration of her book Flight Behavior through Audible, and was excited that my book club had chosen The Lacuna as the next read.

I don't want to say I was disappointed, but I was surprised. Kingsolver's stories usually have compelling characters at the helm, narrators that become something like friends. But in The Lacuna, our protagonist is so distant from the reader that the work suffers to deliver us a truly satisfying story. With a passive protagonist, the question becomes "who is steering this story?", and the answer is so clearly Kingsolver's interest in history. Our protagonist, Harrison Shepherd, is a leaf on the wind of history, like Forrest Gump, but way less interesting. I'm on board with this approach, but not at the sacrifice of a character I care about to bring me through the times.

The novel is an ambitious endeavor for Kingsolver, and a return to the scene after nine years without publishing anything. I imagine much of that time was filled with research for The Lacuna, which spans across the U.S. and Mexico, the great depression, the surrealist art movement, WWII, Japanese internment, communism and the red scare. It's an ambitious stretch through History, and definitely provokes reflection upon some of the darker aspects of America's past. Many parallels can be drawn between the political environment of post WWII America and today's national climate, especially when it comes to journalism.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Book Review: "Big Little Lies" by Liane Moriarty

You know those books that keep you up reading late into the night? For me, Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies was one of those books. Initially, I was a bit thrown off by the structure of the story; moving back in time and counting down to the big event that the entire story builds toward with inserts of police interview narrative taking place after the big event. In the beginning, I read the police interview snippets and only hoped to remember everyone's name to see if the information became relevant. I soon found that those interview snippets reinforced one of the main themes in the book: the power of gossip and biased observations.

Once I got used to the structure, I was quickly swept up into the lives of the three main perspective characters. There is Madeline, a force of a woman and mother, who toes the line between being headstrong and being a bully. Bullying is another theme in this story, and Moriarty makes it clear that it is not a behavior contained to childhood playgrounds, but a behavior that can follow people into their adult lives with horrific psychological effects. Madeline is an aging, re-married divorcee struggling with the fact that her ex-husband and his perfect yoga Barbie doll of a wife have moved to the same town and their children all attend the same school. I found Madeline to be an acquired taste as she is rather rash in her decision making and much more likely to follow emotional impetus than take a rational approach.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Book Review: "The Light Between Oceans" by M.L. Stedman

Have you ever started reading a book that doesn't initially grab you, but somewhere in the rising action you find yourself surprisingly entranced? That's how my reading of M.L. Stedman's The Light Between Oceans began; a bit slow and uncertain. This was a book I bought when it first made a splash in the literary scene, but I didn't actually sit down to read it until a few years later.

This story crept up on me with its stunning sense of isolation introduced through the character of Tom Sherbourne. Tom has returned to Australia after fighting in WWII. I am an admitted fan of all things WWII, especially the exploration of psychological trauma. Tom is haunted by the war, and in an attempt to heal from the experience he accepts a posting at a lighthouse on Janus Rock. Janus is a rocky island completely cut off from civilization. Stedman's use of setting serves as reinforcement of Tom's internal state, but brilliantly Janus also evolves along with the characters. Janus becomes a private sanctuary for Tom and his young, free-spirited wife Isabel who comes to live with him after they are married. The two become the Adam and Eve of Janus, explorers that re-map the island in a way only they can understand; they are hopeful and in love and Janus is the cradle of their happiness.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Jon Snow Dilemma
If you are anything like me, a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) books as well as HBO's phenomenal adaptation, Game of Thrones (GOT) then you are probably wondering whether Jon Snow stands any chance of being resurrected from the dead.

Book readers have been blogging about this on the internet for years. The end of George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons, left much to the imagination. In the book, Jon is a warg, as are most of the other Stark children. The prologue of Dragons focuses on the character Varamyr Sixskins, a powerful warg beyond the wall who was able to prolong his life after his human form was killed by warging into the consciousness of several different animals. So when the book ends, and Jon snow is stabbed by his brothers and lays bleeding out, he calls for Ghost. So there are a lot of fan theories based on evidence in ASOIAF that believe Jon survived the stabbing by warging into Ghost. 

The adaptation has not shown any of the Stark children as wargs except for Bran. I understand this from a show running point of view, as this ability distinguishes Bran and enhances his importance in the eyes of the viewers. However, I still waited up until the screen went to black for Jon to whisper Ghost's name, I thought maybe that would be the moment to reveal that he can also warg. It didn't happen. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Book Review: "Dark Places" by Gillian Flynn

If you liked Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, then odds are you will also enjoy Dark Places. The story follows the mystery of the Day Family Murders in 1985, and the surviving daughter Libby Day's conviction that her older brother Ben was responsible for the satanic laced deaths of her mother and two sisters. The very structure of Dark Places is something I appreciate in terms of unfolding a mystery. Libby Day is the novel's present day first person point of view character. Libby is depressed, unmotivated, emotionally unstable, and a whole host of other unflattering characteristics including kleptomania, and yet her voice is impossible to resist. As the only first person character, the reader gets inside of Libby's mind and her unapologetic perspective of the world which is viewed through the tragic lens of the murder of her family when she was just a child. Perhaps having survived the murder of her mother and two sisters, her subsequent mutilation, and providing the damning testimony that helped pin the crime on her brother, is the reason Libby is so easy to forgive as a narrator.

As the story moves forward, the character perspectives move between Patty Day (Libby's mother) and Ben Day (Libby's brother) on the day of the murder back in 1985. Flynn really shines here as she masterfully designs a story that doesn't reveal it's central truth behind the mystery of who committed the murders until the reader has traveled with Patty and Ben through the day and their dark truths. The back story keeps the reader guessing at every turn as to who was responsible for the ghastly murders and who else may have been involved.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Book Review: "The Year of the Flood" by Margaret Atwood

Book Two in the MaddAddam Trilogy

Oryx and Crake (read my review here) ended with Jimmy, aka Snowman, encountering the only humans he's come across since the human race was wiped out by an epidemic he unwittingly helped deploy. Spoiler Alert - this book ends in the same place. The Year of the Flood is not a continuation of where we left off in Oryx and Crake, but rather a view of the societal collapse and epidemic from different character perspectives.

Toby is probably one of my favorite female characters in recent fiction. She's immensely strong and pragmatic. We meet Toby at the AnooYoo Spa where she's been holed up to ride out The Waterless Flood unleashed by Crake to wipe out humanity. To survive in this situation the reader knows that beyond good luck there has to be some skills involved. Toby's origin story begins to unfold, and we are taken back in time to when she was just a teenager growing up in a world that was becoming increasingly fractionalized by Corporate Compounds and steroid consumerism. Her story is heart wrenching; laced with loss and hard decisions. Yet, Toby never becomes sullen. Toby survives.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Movie vs. Book: "The Martian"

I read Andy Weir's The Martian a few months ago (read my review here). The most compelling part of that story was the character of Mark Watney and the perseverance of the human spirit to survive. When I found out that Matt Damon was slated to portray Mark Watney in the film adaptation I was excited to see what he did with the character. Damon is capable of portraying seriousness, humor, pain and sinisterness...he's an actor. What I was most interested in was how Ridley Scott and Damon were going to balance Mark Watney.

Andy Weir's version of Mark Watney highlighted the character's humor and how something like that can go a long way in surviving horrifying situations. While reading the novel I speculated as to the deterioration of Watney's mental state, which was always masked in sarcasm and science, but the psychological impact was never thoroughly explored. This is one aspect of character that the movie was able to flesh out and show. Ultimately, the ability to show Mark Watney sink into depression or frustration before springing back out of it with his humor went a very long way. I was also horrified at the depiction of Watney's physical state as his diet changed. The contrast between Damon's fit physique in the beginning of the film and the emaciated malnourished shell of a man he became with a rationed diet of potatoes was shocking, and something that the film brought to life in the way the book did not.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"A God in Ruins" by Kate Atkinson

In her companion novel to Life After Life (read my review here), Kate Atkinson revisits the Todd family with a particular focus on the beloved character of Teddy. In Life After Life, Ursula Todd goes through multiple lives to figure out a way to save her brother from dying during WWII when he served as a bombing pilot. What we are delivered in A God in Ruins is the story of Teddy's life.

I use the word "life" because Atkinson makes it vividly clear to readers that even Teddy, for as good and well-intentioned as he is, is not immune to the heartbreak and suffering that is inherent in life. It took me a long time to finish the book, because every chapter was imbued with tiny heart heartbreaks. Unlike Life After Life, Teddy doesn't get a second chance, so what was tortuous to read in Life After Life became bearable through the element of escape whenever Ursula died and was given the chance to do it all over again. A God in Ruins is an unforgiving and beautiful examination of just one character's life and all of the details that make it relatable, painful, and human.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Book Review: "Looking for Alaska" by John Green

After reading John Green's Looking for Alaska, I now understand a commonly cited criticism of his writing: the use of the "manic pixie dream girl" trope. Perhaps if I had not just read Green's Paper Towns I wouldn't feel so crotchety, but that just isn't the case in my experience of Looking for Alaska. That's not to say I didn't find the story entertaining, if there is one thing John Green does well, it's construct a proper story arc; however, these characters felt too familiar. Alaska felt like Margot Roth Spielgman in Paper Towns, and if I'm going to be honest I want to flip the gender roles and say that Alaska and Margot are also very similar to Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars.

I want to stress that I don't think there is anything wrong with this string of familiar characters who seem imbued with an extra dose of grabbing life by the gonads and making it sing. It's a tried and true formula for stories of self-discovery. If you don't know what I mean by "manic pixie dream girl," I encourage a trip to YouTube for that explanation. But in short, it is basically something that emerged in recent years as a character type that is injected into story lines to teach the male protagonist about life, freedom, love and all things that make one feel alive and connected. Think Natalie Portman's character in my beloved Garden State; she introduces the male protagonist to The Shins, thrusts him into unfamiliar situations to force the emergence of self identity in an effort to cope and adapt, confesses the darkness buried in her being of light, makes him feel unique, makes him question life, and gets him to do something completely freeing. That is essentially the formula for the creation of a "manic pixie dream girl."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Book Review: "The Martian" by Andy Weir

It's not often a book comes along with a character like Mark Watney. The main protagonist of Andy Weir's The Martian is an astronaut with a background in botany and mechanical engineering that is unfortunately presumed dead and stranded by his crew on Mars. If you read that sentence and came away with the taste of science on your tongue, you aren't far off the mark. This is definitely a science heavy story, but it's the character of Mark Watney that makes this journey worth reading.

Mark Watney is a perpetual smart ass. His humor never fails to pierce the severity of his life or death situation and lighten the tone of the story. After being left behind by his crew during a bad storm on Mars, Mark has to figure out how to create water, grow food, and somehow communicate with NASA. The problems he faces are unrelenting, and as a reader I agreed with Mark that it seemed like the inhospitable planet was trying to kill him. Mars is definitely the antagonist of the story just due to its very nature. It becomes coldly clear that Mars is no friend to mankind, and this hits upon a reoccurring theme in the story that Earth is the hub of humanity and all of the things that make humanity worth saving is embodied by this lone man stranded on a planet far from home. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Book Review: "Pines" by Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch's Pines is the first installment of the Wayward Pines Trilogy. I only heard of this book after an intriguing preview for the 10-episode television adaptation starring Matt Dillon as the story's main protagonist, Ethan Burke. If you're a fan of stories with a great twist then this is definitely a story for you. I like being surprised by a read, and this was definitely a surprise.

From watching the show I expected a lot of the confusion, the dark tone, the mysterious and inescapable setting of Wayward Pines, Idaho. What I didn't expect from the book was the depth of character development and the relentless pacing of a well configured thriller that makes the reader as mentally exhausted as the protagonist. The plot is intriguing, and though there is a big spoiler at the end of the first book - I'm not entirely sure it's the truth. I guess I have to keep reading to find out.

Ethan Burke is an ex-military, secret service agent working a missing persons case for two fellow agents that disappeared. On his way to track them down at their last known location, Ethan is in a terrible car crash that leaves him with some amnesia and physical injuries. However, Ethan doesn't wake up in a hospital; he wakes up beside a creek in a town that is absolutely foreign to him. As Ethan roams through town trying to track down his cell phone and his wallet, the strangeness of Wayward Pines, Idaho becomes apparent.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Liebster Blog Nomination

I've been blogging for a couple of years now, and I've only just recently put in the effort to connect to the wider book blogging community. I've come across some amazing bloggers and great networking sites that allows us all to connect with one another.

I was more than surprised when I logged into my Goodreads account and discovered that I had been nominated for The Liebster Award by fellow blogger Danielle Smith over at Reading, Writing and What Not. 

I'd never heard of The Liebster Award, so I immediately took to Google and discovered that this is a recognition from my book blogging peers that my blog is read, valued, and followed. The Liebster Award nomination is a part of blog networking, so the nomination comes with its own set of rules which include submitting my own nominations for the blogs I follow and answering some writing related questions as well as posing some questions of my own for the bloggers I nominate.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Book Review: "Paper Towns" by John Green

I was in a dark place. All I was reading was Soviet Union historical fiction and crime novels for an external website I'm writing reviews for in addition to my own. I was seeing the worst in humanity. You'd think after reading as much as I do that I would know that when I get caught in these reading funks the best medicine is generally Young Adult Fiction.

There's something refreshing about YA lit, and I turned to John Green to help pull me from my reading malaise. This was quite possibly the best decision I could have made. I'm familiar with Green from The Fault in Our Stars (you can read my review for that here). I knew Paper Towns wasn't supposed to be as sad as Stars, but I certainly wasn't expecting some of the surprising laugh out loud moments I had while reading this story. I would find myself with a smile on my face, if not from the humor, then from the sense of understanding the adolescent process of self-discovery.

Now, this is only my second John Green novel, but I find that he is an incredibly talented writer in that he is able to elevate the typical adolescent experience by using literature in his stories to serve as plot points and help with character development. As an admitted bibliophile, English Lit major, and general enthusiast of all things relating to reading - this is a very special thing for me to encounter in his work. I know I'm not alone.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Book Review: "The Secret Speech" by Tom Rob Smith

In this sequel to Child 44, British author Tom Rob Smith picks up with Leo Demidov three years after he's established the Homicide Division within the KGB, formerly the MGB. The Homicide Division is not held in high regard, but Leo cannot conscientiously work for the government doing anything else after the events in Child 44. 

The first scene in the book is actually a significant flashback to when Leo first started his work with the MGB. It is this scene that informs much of what transpires in The Secret Speech, and provides additional background for Leo. Initially, the link is unclear, but as events unfold the reader is pulled into the know. It's hard to forgive him for his blind obedience, but Leo's character is still pursuing his redemption; an arc that I imagine is resolved in the final book of the trilogy.

The speech referenced in title refers to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 address admitting Stalin's crimes. The speech is anonymously dropped off at a print press, deposited into every teacher's mailbox, and leaked through various other methods. At a time when propaganda and fear held the Soviet Union together, the speech was viewed as a serious threat. A threat that soon becomes clear when dead bodies start to turn up. Leo's team begins an investigation into deaths of previous MGB officers and other high ranking officials seemingly linked to crimes named in the speech. The speech is used as a catalyst to create social unrest, exposing these men who condemned their comrades to the gulags, torture, and death. It's clear that there is an underground movement taking place in an attempt to exacerbate the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Movie vs. Book: "Child 44: Where it Fell Short"

I recently reviewed the book Child 44 written by Tom Rob Smith, which you can read here. I didn't have much in the way of criticism for the book. I thought there was a balanced level of suspense, historical revelation of Soviet Union horrors, and character development. The psychological components of brainwashing, post traumatic stress disorder, fear, greed and psychopathic behavior were not clinical, but they definitely hit on all the right notes to bring the human struggle to life while propelling readers through an unrelenting thriller.

However, as is often the case, something was lost in the recent film adaptation of the book. If you haven't read my Movie vs. Book comparisons before, I feel it's important that you understand I am very open minded and I embrace the art of adaptation. I find adaptation an art form in itself. How do you take this finished and best-selling piece of literature and translate it to a different art form? It requires hard decision making, cuts, streamlining and simplification.

I've read that many book authors opt not to translate their own works into screenplays because of how different the writing medium is from writing a novel. In screenplays you have to break down the story and lay out the bare bones, "kill your darlings," and then leave room for the director's cut and vision. It would be hard to do that to a piece of work that you labored over in order to achieve the sense of finality; enough so, at least, to offer it to the world as a completed work. Some author's have been up to the task, most recently Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay for Gone Girl and her adaptation was incredible.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Book Review: "Child 44" by Tom Rob Smith

As the first installment in a trilogy, Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 was an intriguing historical thriller that I couldn't stop reading. A friend first mentioned the book to me as a passing recommendation, and then I saw the preview for the film based on the book starring Tom Hardy. In true fan girl fashion, and what has become my preferred way to view films based on books, I sought out a copy of Child 44.

Initially, I didn't know what I had gotten myself into as the book started out with a scene that seemed disjointed from the main narrative. The book starts with a scene following two brothers as they try to trap and kill a stray cat in the woods so they can bring it home to their mother and eat it. They are starving, it's the middle of WWII, and the people of Russia have resorted to things worse than eating rats to survive the unrelenting hunger.

Then, the narrative shifts and we are vaulted twenty years into the future. The third person omniscient point of view allows the exploration of many of the character's thoughts, but the narrative most closely follows a high ranking M.G.B. officer by the name of Leo Demidov, whose perspective is shaped by the brain washed blur of Stalinism. As a member of the secret police, Leo fears his own colleagues and upward mobility as much as the general public fears him. To the reader, and to the general public of Stalinist Russia, Leo is a symbol of all that is wrong with the Soviet Union. I began to question why I was following this man and his blind belief for such a flawed ideology.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Movie vs. Book: "Wild: Raw and Real"

I'm going to start this off by saying that I was pretty sure this movie would have significant voice over. I expected passages from the book read over top of scenes, Reese Witherspoon's voice retelling Cheryl Strayed's powerful journey across the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

Instead, what I got was probably more true to the actual journey itself; a sense of silence and introspection. Cheryl Strayed wrote her memoir about her hike on the PCT nearly twenty years after the hike occurred (click here to read my book review). Nick Hornsby adapted her story into a smart screenplay brought to soul stirring life by Jean-Marc Vallee.

Strayed struck out on the journey by herself with no sense of what she was about to endure physically or psychologically. She walked to return to her self. She walked to remember who she was and to find out who she had become after the devastating death of her mother. Cheryl's life spiraled downward and deconstructed her marriage, her path in college and her faith in any God that might exist. She was a hollow person seeking to fill herself through reckless sex and drug abuse. Her decision to hike the PCT undoubtedly saved her life.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline

In times of national economic upheaval the public seeks escapism. Some have credited Shirley Temple films with helping pull the nation's mood up out of the Great Depression. In this day and age we are no strangers to the economic chaos that surrounds us and the faceless corporations that seem to be gaining more and giving less. Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is strangely visionary in that it provides us with a foreboding future in which nearly all of humanity is destitute and starving. Their only escape is an immersive virtual world called the OASIS, but now even that is at risk of being taken over by a corporation that wants to make the OASIS exclusive and expensive.

The OASIS was developed by a brilliant billionaire with Asperger's by the name of James Halliday. Halliday invents the OASIS as a place where people can go and interact and learn under assumed identities using Avatars. The OASIS grows, spawning worlds full of games and challenges, but it also has its practical uses for business, news, and education. The most important thing to the protagonist of the story, Wade Watts, is that education in the simulated world is free. Not just free of cost, but free of bullies that made his real-life schooling experience a nightmare. 

What sets this story into motion is the death of James Halliday. For it us upon this fateful day that Halliday's avatar Anorak, announces to the world that he has arranged a contest open to everyone within the OASIS to uncover the Easter Egg that is the key to his fortune and power over the OASIS. Halliday programs three keys to three gates within the expansive universe of the OASIS, and he provides the public with the first clue to find the first key. And thus the race for the Egg begins. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Review: "The Girl on the Mountain" by Carol Ervin

It's 1899, and May Rose Long has just been abandoned by her husband in the mountains of West Virginia. Isolated from the logging town of Winkler and ostracized by the townspeople due to rumors of indecent behavior; May Rose tries desperately to connect with her family that headed West to Fargo, North Dakota.

Ervin is capable of creating a story around May Rose that is surprisingly entertaining and revealing of the position of women in society during this time in history. May Rose is known as the Girl on the Mountain because she is accused of standing naked and waving at the train of logging men as they passed her house every day. The rumor is the catalyst for everything that happens in the story, including her husband's disappearance. But May Rose was far from happily married, and while her husband kept her secluded from the town, buying the cabin with her dowry, she had only herself to rely upon most of the time while he stayed in the logging camp.

Ervin captures the grueling details of May Rose's survival and shows a vast knowledge of what mountain life consists of in the late 19th century. I was able to get a real feel for the setting and loved the descriptions of May Rose's different labors; from gardening to raising hogs and washing clothes. When May Rose's husband does not come home and she finds out what happened to him, a new part of her character opens up. We discover she's an intelligent woman and quite capable of forging her way into town and coming up with her own plan of survival.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah

"If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are."

Kristin Hannah opens her newest novel, The Nightingale, with this sentence that acts as the driving theme in her WWII portrait of women during war. Hannah's main characters are sisters with a fractured past. Their bond is tenuous before the war, and nearly breaks entirely once the Nazi's invade France. The elder sister is Vianne Mauriac, a devoted mother and wife who fights her war at home in Carriveau, where a Nazi has billeted at her home while her husband is in a work camp in Germany. Isabelle Rossignol is the impetuous younger sister whose anger about the war drives her toward the French Resistance. 

The Nightingale is by no means literary fiction. When I say that, I mean that there is no prose so beautiful that it resonates with your soul, however, this is an excellent story with an emotionally powerful narrative. Hannah's body of work up until this point has dealt with interpersonal relationships and emotional "chic-lit." The Nightingale has taken Hannah's storytelling to a different level. The writer even admitted in an interview with Goodreads that this story was the most difficult for her to write, but it was a story that would not let her rest.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Book Review: "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel's fourth novel, Station Eleven, arrived with much anticipation among fans of the dystopian genre. With as saturated as the dystopian genre (or Speculative Fiction) is at the moment, Station Eleven definitely stands apart from the rest, but not in the way you would expect.

The story begins with a death. A famous 51-year-old actor by the name of Arthur Leander drops dead on stage of a massive heart attack during a performance of Shakespeare's King Lear. The actor's tragic death is soon overshadowed when a pandemic called the Georgia Flu effectively wipes out about 99% of the world's population. The web of characters that this story focuses on are all connected through Arthur Leander. Mandel does an excellent job of dropping hints, piquing interest and weaving this web of interconnection which snaps into focus at the climax of the story.

The character perspectives change as the story unfolds, so parts of the story take place before the world is forever altered by the Georgia Flu. In these chapters we get to know Arthur, his upbringing, his struggle as an actor, and the turbulent relationships with his many wives, but mainly his first wife, Miranda Carroll. Miranda, hailing from the same tiny island as Arthur, is fresh out of an abusive relationship when Arthur sweeps her away to Los Angeles. L.A. life could not be any less suited to anyone as it is for Miranda, and she throws herself into her creative endeavors to escape the resultant unhappiness of her lonely marriage.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Book Review: "Serena" by Ron Rash

Ron Rash's acclaimed novel Serena (2008) was a unique reading experience. I've been thinking about how to write this book review for a while now because of how mixed my feelings are about the whole of the novel. I liked it, however, there was a tension thrumming beneath the story the entire time that I felt was never fully realized. The amount of tension achieved with the use of symbolism, fatalism, mounting greed and obsession was all brought to a climax that didn't measure up to the painstakingly deliberate rising action. This is my opinion of course, and I'm sure there are many people who would disagree.

Serena takes place just after the stock market crash as the country dives deep into the Great Depression. The story is set in the mountains of Western North Carolina where Mr. Pemberton has just arrived with his new bride, Serena. The power couple intend to strip the mountains of its lumber and exploit the cheap labor of the locals and travelers who arrive in boxcars every day.

The story is told in alternating limited third person perspective, but none of those perspectives are those of the title character. Rash's decision to eliminate Serena's voice elevates her to more of a force that preys on and plagues the lives of the characters we do get to know. It's a bold choice. Is it entirely successful? I think that depends on the reader.