Thursday, July 30, 2015

Zoo by James Patterson

Zoo was my first novel by James Patterson. I began reading it with high expectations due to the sheer volume of books he cranks out so frequently. I have to admit, though, I was disappointed in Zoo.

Patterson's Zoo has some really strong features. For those of us who sincerely appreciate easy stopping points, this book has 98 chapters and an epilogue. It's absolutely great for fitting in five minutes of reading here and there. However, some chapter breaks seemed unnecessary. One might end with an event of some sort, but nothing too suspenseful. Some chapters might have been more effective blended together.

Author, James Patterson
The plot of Zoo could be summed up to say the world is experiencing an animal apocalypse. Due to humans' lack of care with the environment and their stubborn nature of not wanting to believe warning signs, they've brought on a chemically/environmentally borne "smell" that affects all mammals. Suddenly dolphins, rats, squirrels, leopards, and hippos (oh my!) all have this wasp-like hatred of humans and, as hives, attack humans en masse.

This really could have been exciting. The plot blossomed from a great idea but wilted because of the characters. I felt the characters were dry and "regular" and I also didn't find myself sympathizing with the human experience hardly at all. It seemed no relationships were developed fully enough to care if the protagonist's wife and kids were eaten, for example. There wasn't one character introduced that really struck a line of familiarity with me.

That being said, I'd still recommend this book for a quick read. You could finish it in a couple dedicated nights (one if you're crazy). The fictional science and plot development is interesting. And it'll have you wondering about your own behavior in the environmentally fragile world in which we live and breathe. Just don't open the book expecting to have your heart shredded by an emotional tempest of suffering, courage and hope (like I did, clearly).

You can check Zoo out from your local library or purchase it on Amazon.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Time and Again by Jack Finney (Time Series, Book One)

Time and Again is the first of two books in Jack Finney's Time Series. I added it to my "To Read" list after finishing Stephen King's 11/22/63 and seeing his reference to this book as "THE great time-travel story." I struggled with the pace, but appreciated the vivid imagery that brought 19th century New York to life.

Author Jack Finney (1911-1995) was a wealth of information on history due, in large part, to the decades he experienced first hand. Being a millenial, I appreciated not only his fictional account of New York but the fact confirmed in his epilogue that he and his associates researched extensively to verify and write about late 19th century New York exactly as it actually was in the 19th century. He admits there were some intentionally adjusted dates to suit the purpose of an entertaining story but for the most part, by reading Time and Again, you're stepping back into 19th century New York as it very much were.

If you love New York and maybe even have a bumper sticker saying so on your car, you may really like Finney's excessively descriptive nature. But (maybe because I'm a millenial?) I found the story to lose its grasp on my attention multiple times when descriptions got too lengthy. Finney writes in depth about nearly everything our protagonist encounters. But it's also important to consider this book was published first in 1970 for a different era of reader and market.

Author, Jack Finney (1995)
That being said, the imagery from both the 20th and 19th centuries' New York was wonderful and clear even if in excess. You would have no issue visualizing the scenes Simon Morley (or Si as he's known by most) walks into. And it's fun reading along knowing that the arm of the statue of liberty actually did set near Madison separated and awaiting construction at another site until a later date. In the book, Si is able to climb just the arm and sit near the torch.

The story's action was intriguing. If I were to re-edit it for 2015, I would cut the majority of the first 50% of the book, leaving the bare essentials to describe the time travel method and project. I also wouldn't bother with too much depth into Si's career as he's soon to abandon it for the remainder anyway. And as far as the "complicated love situation" mentioned in the description between two women it falls rather flat. Si is primarily interested in one (I won't spoil which one, in case you're interested to find out for yourself) and I feel the other could be cut completely without the story losing any of its value.

My opinion on edits aside, the last half of the book carries along nicely. Glazing through the occasional slump of adjectives and scenery, I found myself wondering "How is he going to get out of this?" or "What would I do if I found myself in his situation?" and most often "How is this going to affect the present?" And it's interesting to consider all the ways 19th century civil workers (police, firemen, politicians, etc.) and citizens responded and reacted to crisis and crime. We certainly have better technology and resources today, but what about the character composition of our communities? Would we jump into danger to help a stranger (enjoyed the rhyme, did you?)? Or would we rely on diffusion of responsibility and perhaps even pretend we didn't see anything, absolving ourselves of the need to act?

Time and Again is a book that'll have you asking questions not only about yourself but about the world you live in today. It's worth a read if you have the time - and if you don't, crack the book open halfway in and fill the gaps in as best you can. We all need to experience a bit of time travelling and I can't think of a better, more engaging way than through historically-near-accurate fiction.

Check out Time and Again from your local library or purchase it on Amazon.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

The First Bad Man by Miranda July is an emotional storm detailing Cheryl Glickman's experiences during a difficult and wonderful time in her life. Cheryl, never married and without children, is a baby-obsessed later-middle-aged woman and I absolutely loved her. Cheryl, in her forties, experiences internal lifetimes of love with Philip, a co-worker and board member at her workplace which aims to reduce domestic violence and teach women how to defend themselves. Cheryl harbors a fierce love of two things: babies (not any baby, but certain babies that seem to embody the soul of one in particular) and Phillip. But Phillip, in his sixties, harbors a fierce love not for Cheryl but for a teenage girl named Kirsten. This news shatters Cheryl, but she comes to believe Phillip is only texting her graphic tales of his endeavors as a sort of game - that, perhaps, Kirsten is imaginary.
Author, Miranda July

Phillip aside, Cheryl later meets Clee through an unexpected and unwelcome turn of events. Her bosses' daughter Clee is a beautiful blonde girl that has seemingly has no respect for herself or anyone or anything. Clee, more or less, invites herself to live with Cheryl and arrives with garbage bags of belongings. Her pepsi-guzzling, cheeto-crunching character is only accentuated by her sexual promiscuity and violent, threatening behavior. But Cheryl, after summoning the courage to stand up to Clee, begins to thirst for the violence and they begin to regularly act out self-defense scenarios which satisfies them both immensely. And then they fall in love.

When Cheryl finds out Clee is pregnant (from an unknown partner), she gets involved and loves the idea of sharing a baby. And where Clee was once a revolting character, I found myself cheering her on at times and wishing the both of them every happiness. But life isn't always so simple. And for this cast of characters it can be quite complex. Read the book and experience the birth of love and courage. Find out what happens to Cheryl and Phillip. But most of all, envelop yourself with the intricacies of the human spirit and mind.

This was the first book I experienced by Miranda July. Miranda writes with a unique voice and an important voice for youth and adults alike. If you're looking for something different, but something intimate and raw look no further. The First Bad Man will keep you turning pages, wishing fiercely, celebrating, sympathizing, laughing and fighting tears as you unwrap this tale of losing, gaining and loving.

Be sure to check out The First Bad Man by Miranda July from your local library or purchase it on Amazon.

Friday, July 24, 2015

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Stephen King is, without a doubt, one of my top five favorite authors (if not the very first!). So a review for 11/22/63 comes easily to me as I have no disappointment in it or the familiar writing style that encapsulates and engages my imagination for days on end.

Author, Stephen King
11/22/63 answers a question: "What could interfering with the past do the future?" It's tested through various adventures into the past changing first a small thing, then maybe a bigger thing later. But the most interesting and unique thing about 11/22/63 is that time travel happens by descending a particular "invisible staircase" in a closet. Each time you enter the past (always the exact same date and time) you reset all previous changes you made as if you'd never interfered. And even if you spend five years in the past, when you return to the present you've only been gone two minutes. Fascinating.

I encourage you to read this book and see what could happen if JFK's assassin was unsuccessful. I encourage you to put yourself in Jake Epping's shoes and experience the present and the past as he encounters complications in both. Where would you want to stay? What would you want to do? How would you handle the responsibility? Especially when you knew the past didn't want to be changed and would throw obstacles in your path if you tried - jeopardizing your life, even.

Be sure to check for 11/22/63 at your local library or purchase it on Amazon.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton is a new kind of novel for me. For me, it's not quite science fiction, it's not quite fantasy, it's not quite historical fiction and so on and so forth. It was a sorrowful, yet beautiful tale - the title is spot on.

Ava Lavender, in the time the story is written, is the most recent addition to a long line of sad ancestors. She's cursed or blessed with enormous, feathery wings. But the feathers are gray. Ava is holed up in her house growing up, unaware of all that's out in the world for her own protection. But with the assistance of some questionable friends she sneaks out a few times to explore the coastal town.

Nathaniel Sorrows, taking care of his mother, lives in town and sees Ava out and about with her wings. He mistakes her as an angel at once and speeds down a dangerously unhealthy slope of obsession. When the summer solstice celebration comes, Ava blends in well as most people wear costumes. The freedom is surely a relief but the dangerous man waiting for her to be alone doesn't cross her mind.
Author, Leslye Walton
Ava's story is sorrowful - and exciting. Her mother's story is sad - yet moving. Her grandmother's story is miserable - but wonderful. It continues, and continues but each relative experiences redeeming, beautiful and exciting events that keep us engaged and thrilled for their special break in the clouds.

Grab a handful of sorrow and wonder. You may feel it's slow at times but hang in there and allow yourself to open yourself to experience the story being told on an emotional level.

Be sure to check for The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender at your local library or purchase it on Amazon.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman brings to mind the one curmudgeon I'm sure we all know in our families or communities. And thankfully it brings a different perspective to our understanding of those individuals. Ove, specifically, is dealing with an overwhelming amount of grief and feels he's stopped living - but he keeps going through the motions.

I found Ove to be an endearing character. I identified with his need for order and regularity. I appreciated his watchful eye in the neighborhood, putting himself in uncomfortable situations to stand up for those that wouldn't or couldn't stand up for themselves. Ove was also very handy and, albeit with a grumble, was willing to help anyone with about any project or task. And I really loved the cat he hated and how it came to be "his" (even though he would deny such).

He's a "softy." And toward the end of the book they find out his heart is too big - and that's both literally and figuratively. He's generous, thoughtful and kind. He's open-minded to "youth" of today and even opens his home to a young gay kid abandoned by his own father because of his sexuality.
Author, Fredrik Backman

I'll admit it started slowly. It's hard to identify with him at first - but consider meeting a curmudgeon in real life: it's not easy to warm up immediately either.

Perhaps my largest criticism of the writing style is all of the detailed metaphors used to describe various things. It seemed a bit too frequent that Backman described a sight, smell or feeling with an abstract metaphor. A few are great, an army of them become tiring.

Whether you're interested in the premise of A Man Called Ove or not, I think you'd be touched by reading it. We can all identify with at least one character in the community. Be sure to read the epilogue. And open your heart to Ove.

Be sure to check for A Man Called Ove at your local library or purchase it on Amazon.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart

     Firstly: No, Miranda, it is most definitely not just you.

     Moving on: Miranda Hart's auto-biographical Is It Just Me? tells the tale of her growing up (which continues to this day). The wit and cleverness shown in her TV series shines clear through her writing as well and one can't help but laugh out loud at some of the pages. In fact there were many nights I fear I woke my husband from his slumber as I lay reading late into the night.

     Perhaps one of the most unique features of this book is that it holds conversation between the author and reader as well as between the present-day author and her 18-year-old self. This provides an interesting perspective into Hart's life then and now and, more importantly as a reader, makes one think back to our own youthful, ignorant days.

Author, Comedian and Actress Miranda Hart
     The main lesson of Is It Just Me? is to take things a little less seriously but never let go of your dreams and right to happiness. We live in a funny world that can sometimes seem not at all funny. But it's up to us to be ourselves, drop our shield and allow that raw exposure to our surroundings in order to give and get the most to and from the world.

     I highly recommend reflecting on memories past with Miranda Hart and taking a peek into your own mechanics and history. It's a quick but fantastic read that's sure to have you at least giggling if not rolling about and shouting in public (you'll understand when you read). Be sure to check for Is It Just Me? at your local library, on Amazon for your Kindle, as a paperback or hardcover. You can also purchase Miranda's enhanced e-book edition which includes 18 video sequences. And finally, if you haven't seen her TV series, you're missing out. Become a cultural vacuum or at least have a Miranda marathon and catch up with one my new personal favorites.