"All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened
and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you
and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse,
and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."
Ernest Hemingway

Saturday, June 27, 2015

I'll Give You the Sun

I'll Give You the Sun
Dial Books
I'll Give You the Sun
Jandy Nelson

The Summary
"Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close.  At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them.

"But three years later, at sixteen, Jude and Noah are barely speaking.  Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways...until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else - an even more unpredictable new force in her life.

"The early years are Noah's story to tell.  The later years are Jude's.  What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to each other, they'd have a chance to remake their world."

The Good
Let me have a moment to collect myself before I begin.

You see, I'll Give You the Sun is an excellent book.  Emotionally gripping, suspenseful and simultaneously jarring, I found it utterly captivating.  I found myself sinking into the story, caught up in Jude and Noah's shared drama, without even thinking about it.  To put it simply, I was enthralled by Jandy Nelson's novel.

I'll Give You the Sun is excellent for a number of reasons, not least among them for the amazing story Jude and Noah weave; however, I absolutely love the characters that Nelson crafts, especially her narrators.  Jude and Noah, for all their flaws, are unique and beautiful.  Although they are twins, their vices are singularly unique, so much so you can actually recognize the different threads of their personalities.

Moreover, I love that Noah and Jude are so full of heart and life and love.  They are wonderfully dynamic, constantly growing and maturing and evolving as individuals, accumulating new facets of their personalities.  As Jude aptly points out:

"[Maybe] a person is just made up of a lot of people.  [...]  Maybe we're accumulating these new selves all the time.  Hauling them in as we make choices, good and bad, as we screw up, step up, lose our minds, find our minds, fall apart, fall in love, as we grieve, grow, retreat from the world, dive into the world, as we make things, as we break things."

I'll Give You the Sun is such a beautiful story.  It's partly a coming-of-age tale; however, it's also a story about grieving and healing, art and beauty, love - and knowing that your sibling for all your differences, for all your similarities, will always be there.

The Bad
Honestly, I have no complaints.  I suppose my only problem was having to skip between narrators.  I constantly wished to return to the previous narrator and pursue their story, and I just couldn't decide which story I'd rather read.

But I think that's more of a personal problem, rather than an issue with the book.

The Ugly
Growing up is difficult, no matter who you are, but Jude and Noah have always had one another to rely upon - and then, suddenly, they don't.  It's heartbreaking to see how their lives fall apart, how their inexplicable bond starts to degenerate.  It's hard to read their turmoil, even harder to endure it as they learn to grieve and cope and heal.

Becoming an adult and picking up all the pieces has never seemed so difficult.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bonus: Going Home

Going Home
Nora Roberts

The Summary
A collection of three separate stories by Nora Roberts, including:  Unfinished Business (1992), Island of Flowers (1982), and Mind Over Matter (1987).  This collection follows a discernible thread of thought, focusing on the family ties that bind characters together - for better or worse.

The Good
Going Home provides a sampling of Nora Robert's work, offering insight into a random assortment of her earlier work.  Honestly, I picked up this book because I wanted something simple, short and sweet.  And, well, I found what I was looking for.

However, I will say that I enjoyed Mind Over Matter most.  I enjoyed both of the romantic leads.  Aurora and Dylan were dynamic, possessing their own characteristics and qualities that made them unique - and, more importantly, likable.  They are demanding, they are flawed, and they are often mistaken that they can't (or won't) fall in love; however, they are constantly evolving and changing and maturing, which makes their lives and their romantic entanglement interesting.

The Bad
Okay, I'm going to be honest about my experience with this anthology:  I only liked one of the three short novels I read in Going Home.  Unfinished Business wasn't too bad, but I can't say I was thrilled or enthralled.  Likewise, I wasn't captivated by Island of Flowers.  I might even go so far as to say I hated it.

For some reason, Island of Flowers simply rubbed me the wrong way with its soft, meek female protagonist in Laine and its small-minded, brutish (an adjective I find highly appropriate to describe Dillon, Laine's love interest) male lead.  Both characters frustrated me:  Dillon for being so forceful and inconsiderate, and Lane for being so timid and, well, ill-formed.

Laine was not a character with many endearing characteristics.  She was very plain, very expressionless.  I found it hard to relate to her and, honestly, I was more than a little frustrated by her attitude.  Romantically inexperienced or not, Laine could have put her foot down  and not let her love interest trample all over her.

Let's just say, it was a troubling and frustrating dynamic.

The Ugly
Love can get ugly.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Pagan Meditations: The Worlds of Aphrodite, Artemis, and Hestia

Spring Publications
Pagan Meditations:  The Worlds of Aphrodite, Artemis, and Hestia
Ginette Paris

The Summary
Pagan Meditations is a look at feminism and the psychology of feminism in both the ancient and modern worlds.  Furthermore, Ginette Paris examines underlying tones of feminism in Greek mythology, specifically through the stories and legends surrounding the goddesses of love (Aphrodite), wilderness (Artemis), and hearth (Hestia).

The Good
In her investigation, Paris provides intriguing depictions of the gods and goddesses of Greek myth as they were embraced by ancient society and examined in the modern world.  It's interesting to see the links that the author makes in studying the psychology of the ancients who worshiped these goddesses and the modern individuals who embrace similar patterns of feminism.

While I enjoyed the thoughtful psychological studies and intriguing parallels Paris drew, I also enjoyed the historical elements of Pagan Meditations.  Paris delves deep into ancient Greek traditions, showing practices of worship, investigating spirituality and individual/community beliefs, unearthing important ladies in Greek society and religion.

Paris, despite her background as a psychologist, does an excellent job of bringing history to the forefront of her work.  I loved the inclusion of such little historical morsels, such as her study into the high priestesses of Aphrodite, the courtesans who became mistresses to great generals and Greek thinkers and became powerful patrons of culture in their own right, or her examination of the ladies who inspired the tales of Amazons.

Although periodically dry, Pagan Meditations is both insightful and informative - and intriguing for the concepts of feminism, female social and political power, and, yes, even female sexuality, which she explores.

The Bad
Admittedly, I sometimes had trouble slogging through Pagan Meditations.  The author is obviously brilliant, having devoted copious amounts of time and attention to the details of her work; however, she is an academic, a scholar, and a psychologist.  Occasionally, her words fall flat.  More to the point, she sometimes waxes philosophical, throwing in psychological dialogue that truthfully went over my head.

Paris manages to relate real life examples to her investigation, making her writing a little clearer and, more importantly, accessible, but her work borders on dry, cerebral.  She's an academic making a point, rather than a storyteller.

The Ugly
Other than the occasional, unsavory historical fact or awkwardness concerning the in-depth conversation about female and general human sexuality, Pagan Meditations is pretty mild.

Monday, June 15, 2015

In Progress: Moriarty (Completed)

The second half of Moriarty progressed much like the first, slowly building to an unforeseen climax, taking unexpected twists and turns that, confidentially, make very little sense.  (I do not have a nose for mysteries, not like either Sherlock Holmes or Athelney Jones, so I could not positively decipher the clues.)  For the most part, readers are left in the dark as Frederick Chase continues to recount his journey with Inspector Athelney Jones as they attempt to locate and unmask Clarence Devereux.

Some clues, of course, don’t always add up:  who is Perry, and who does he really work for?  Why does Clarence Devereux believe Jonathan Pilgrim works for Moriarty?  And who has begun targeting Devereux’s criminal network?

Honestly, I feel as if I was left with more questions than answers.  I was justifiably intrigued by the premise of the novel and, even after reaching the latter chapters of Horowitz’s book, I was still hooked.  However, I frustrated by the pace of Moriarty.  To go through a majority of the novel - twenty-two chapters, to be precise - without answers, without suitable explanations for these questions I and Frederick Chase have, I was curious and, confidentially, a little frustrated.

By the time I reached the final chapter (or the final two chapters, I should say), I desperately needed closure.  Periodically, I even lost interest in the story development.  With so many unanswered questions, so many twists that seemed to develop into nothing, I was not the most avid reader.

However, I was struck speechless by the sudden turn of events in the concluding pages.  I mean, Moriarty hits a climax that stopped me short.  It's like a sudden punch in the stomach.  Although the narrator alludes to future events, future tragedy, I didn't expect events to unfold as they did.  More to the point, I didn't expect the "grand reveal" at the end to produce such an impact.

I can't emphasize enough how I was completely and utterly flabbergasted by the conclusion of Moriarty.  The novel has, thus far, taken some very dark turns, but not like I experienced at the end.  I mean, I suppose it makes sense why the author proceeded as he did.  He managed to create a truly brilliant, truly terrifying villain.

Honestly, those two chapters made all the difference.  They created an entirely different tone for the novel by completely inverting my understanding of the novel and my understanding of the dynamic between Sherlock Holmes and Professor James Moriarty.  In fact, I might even be so bold to say that those final two chapters made the entire book worth reading.

Monday, June 8, 2015

In Progress: Moriarty

While recently trolling my local library, I stumbled across a book by Anthony Horowitz.  Now, normally, I don't read much by Horowitz.  I wasn't attracted to his Alex Rider series and I haven't come across one of his novels that's just hit me in a way that makes me want to read his books, that makes me want to sit down and devour a story.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when I found Moriarty, a brand new mystery for Sherlock Holmes authorized by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate.  A modern twist on the Sherlock who readers have come to know and love with the added bonus of discovering what happens to our favorite detective after Reichenbach Falls.  To say the least, I was pleased to find such an unexpected gem.

I've only read about a small handful of Sherlock Holmes' cases; however, I jumped at the chance of reading a modern novel.  And, so far, I haven't been disappointed.

Moriarty takes place after Sherlock Holmes and Professor James Moriarty meet at Reichenbach Falls.  In some small measure, it focuses on what happens to the world's favorite detective and his arch nemesis.  Horowitz, however, takes a surprising turn and introduces a new character:  Frederick Chase, an investigator with the Pinkerton Detective Agency of New York.

And Frederick Chase isn't alone.  Horowitz also introduces a new villain, a man who rivals James Moriarty in his duplicity and his invisibility, a man who may very well be seeking to extend his criminal empire over the sea to fill the shoes of Europe's "Napoleon of Crime."

I was intrigued by the premise, especially since Horowitz decided to recycle characters from Conan Doyle's mysteries, like Inspector Athelney Jones.  Jones appears to take the place of our beloved Sherlock.  As a student of Holmes's methods and his own skill at deductive reasoning, Jones takes center stage, pinpointing unexpected clues, making great leaps of logic with inexplicable ease, and cornering criminals.

Personally, I find Jones to be an intriguing character and, thus far, a fine detective.  I like the way that Horowitz takes Watson's unfavorable view of him and introduces a new, improved detective.  It's fascinating, to say the least, but I'm curious to see where his character development will lead.  After finishing several chapters in the book, I'm uncertain as to where Athelney Jones will take the story.  I mean, he has the potential to become a great detective, but I wonder if his obsession with Sherlock Holmes - with becoming a successful detective - will not be his undoing.

Additionally, I love the narrator.  Frederick Chase, like Dr. John Watson, documents events and procedures surrounding the case, providing a candid and detailed account for readers that's predictably intriguing.  I find I like Detective Chase for his candor and his ability to pen a riveting story, but I'm a little alarmed by his allusions to the future.

You see, in writing his story in the aftermath of events, he refers to developments that I've yet to witness.  I'm justifiably worried about these characters:  what will happen to Athelney Jones and Frederick Chase?  Will they find Clarence Devereux before he has an opportunity to seize Moriarty's criminal empire?  And, most importantly, where is Sherlock Holmes?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Reading Lolita in Tehran

Random House
Reading Lolita in Tehran:  A Memoir in Books
Azar Nafisi

The Summary
Reading Lolita in Tehran is a memoir by Azar Nafisi, an English professor who is attempting to teach Western literature to her students in revolutionary Iran during the 1970s and 1980s.

The Good
Azar Nafisi writes with incredible precision.  Her memoir is laden with a breadth and depth of knowledge that's both astonishing and impressive.  In her work, she tells everything as true as it can be of one's memory.  She bares all and tells all from her doubts, her hopes, her dreams to her discomfort and disillusionment as a woman living in revolutionary Iran.

I was amazed to see the impact of literature on the lives of these women that Nafisi describes, the women and students who shared her life during such a tumultuous time.  Additionally, I was intrigued to see the influence of Western literature on Nafisi and her students, how such words were received and dissected - and, in a word, loved.

I enjoyed reading Nafisi's memoir for the simple fact that she draws parallels between her reading and teaching and her life in Iran.  I enjoyed her candor, her intelligence, and her digressions.  She creates a voice that recreates her world, her life and thoughts at the time of events, and simultaneously offers a glimpse into literature that's truly unique.

The Bad
Reading Lolita in Tehran is an amazing book; however, it is highly literary.  Nafisi is a professor who studies literature, who has made reading and examining books a lifelong endeavor, thus much of who she is and what she does is wrapped up in teaching, dissecting, explaining and exploring the complicated nuances of literature.

I was lucky to have studied literature, lucky to have rightly understood her digressions on literature - like Vladimir Nabakov's Lolita, or F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, or Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice - otherwise I might have found her writing a bit inaccessible.

The Ugly
In opening Reading Lolita in Tehran, I was confronted with the harsh realities that many people faced during the Iranian Revolution and the war with Iraq that subsequently followed.  So many people were in danger simply because they were different, for wanting different things, for having different ideals that disagreed with the new Iranian regime.

Women especially faced terrifying circumstances, Nafisi describes:
"At the start of the twentieth century, the age of marriage in Iran - nine according to Sharia laws - was changed to thirteen and then later to eighteen.  My mother had chosen whom she wanted to marry and she had been one of the first women elected to Parliament in 1963.  When I was growing up, in the 1960s, there was little difference between my rights and the rights of women in Western democracies.  [...]  I married, on the eve of the revolution, a man I loved.  [...]  By the time my daughter was born five years later, the laws had regressed to what they had been before my grandmother's time:  the first law to be repealed...was the family protection law, which guaranteed women rights at home and at work.  The age of marriage was lowered to nine - eight-and-a-half lunar years, we were told, adultery and prostitution were to be punished by stoning to death; and women under law were considered half the worth of men."
It's alarming.  One might even say sickening.