Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

Taking inspiration from the craze of the California Gold Rush and the madness it seemed to induce in the general populace and the individuals who participated, The Sisters Brothers (2011) by Patrick deWitt was a very interesting story from quite a different perspective than the books I typically read.

I didn't really know what to expect with this book at all, so I just settled down for the ride. I will admit that the main characters were a little more violent and less sympathetic than I prefer in my narrators, but it made for perhaps a more gripping experience as I read the story. After all, it can be quite boring when main characters are nothing but good. No danger of that here!

I enjoyed seeing the brothers' journey unfold, and the conflict it created both internally for both main characters and also between them as their priorities and motivations were often at odds.

Overall, a pretty good read that made me really want to give some of the author's other books a try!

“Our blood is the same, we just use it differently.” 

Keep reading! Beth

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Dominion by C.J. Sansom

Dominion (2012) by C.J. Sansom offers an incredibly important view of World War II and what might have happened if the allies had tried appeasement and compromise instead of fighting back against Hitler. It really made me think a lot about war and what is truly worth fighting for; for every action, both fighting and not fighting, there are always consequences.

This story was exciting, disturbing, interesting, and -- given current events -- pretty depressing, especially in how closely the author's 'post-credit' note regarding the (failed) 2014 Scottish independence referendum ended up applying to the subsequent "successes" of the Brexit campaign in the UK and Trump's campaign in the US. His warning against nationalism was keenly felt in the wake of those two situations.

Sansom did an especially good job of demonstrating how insidious nationalism can be, how dangerous the rhetoric of 'others' can be, and how targeting certain groups of people can seep into the core of a culture and lead to such devastating consequences for not just the targeted groups but for everyone. At the risk of getting "too political," are we there again, so gradually we didn't notice?
“Whenever a party tells you national identity matters more than anything else in politics, that nationalism can sort out all the other problems, then watch out, because you’re on a road that can end with fascism.”
Keep reading! Beth

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon

The 5th book in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series, The Fiery Cross (2001) follows immediately after the events of book 4, and therefore maintains both the wonderful writing and interesting characters and settings we've become used to.

Jaime and Clair's relationship is still of course an idealized form of perfection, but that's okay -- I've always gotten the impression that Gabaldon knows this, and doesn't take it too far. It was nice to get to know Bree and Roger more, as they have really become an equal focus in the Outlander stories by now. Though I am quite disappointed that many other characters (especially Fergus) have fallen so far into the background as a result. I would love to have some scenes of his home life!

I love the way Gabaldon focuses on the smaller, domestic stories of settling and farming the frontier rather than so much on politics and battles. So much of history is taught from battle to battle, and one of the aspects of historical fiction that I like the best is the glimpse into how ordinary people might have lived, the troubles and worries they faced, and the joys that made their lives worth living. All of Gabaldon's detail on frontier-style medicine, especially Clair's penicillin research and makeshift hypodermic needles, were especially interesting.

At the risk of a spoiler, the only thing I didn't love about this book is that almost nothing actually happened, and what did happen was not good. Though I do love the day-to-day scenes, and recognize that major events were as few and far between for normal people back in those times as they are now, so the lack of major events is really more realistic. And I certainly appreciate that Gabaldon doesn't seem to have fallen into the trap that Jean Auel did (for instance) with her series and having so much happen in each book and especially having her heroine do so much. But I could have used one or two major happenings, preferably at least one good thing!

I am still really loving the series, and really look forward to the next book as we get closer to the American Revolution (back to those battles).

“While the Lord might insist that vengeance was His, no male Highlander of my acquaintance had ever thought it right that the Lord should be left to handle such things without assistance.” 

“......what I was born does not matter, only what I will make of myself, only what I will become.” 


Keep reading! Beth

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Just in time for the premier of the TV show later this month -- Neil Gaiman's book American Gods (2001) is a folk tale for the modern age with plenty of action and unexpected twists.

This is one of my favorite tropes / sub-genres: taking gods and other mythological elements and inserting them into the normal, current world in a way that explains how they appeared in stories of yore but are not apparent today. This book takes the added twist of contrasting the Old World gods with the modern phenomena that we 'worship' today through use and dependency.

Though the story and some character plots were not always easy to follow, the slight confusion was such that it put me in Shadow's (the main character) shoes. He never really fully knew what was going on, so when I was a little confused, I connected with him more.

The story was epic, the characters interesting and sometimes astounding, and overall this book was pure Gaiman heart and soul, which is always a good thing.

“People believe, thought Shadow. It's what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.”

Keep reading! Beth

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

We Should all be Feminists by Chimamanda Adichie

We Should all be Feminists (2015) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is similar in some ways to Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman -- the text of a speech (in this case a TED talk) by the author transferred to the written word in a dynamic and compelling manner.

I haven't seen the TED talk, but from the text of the book, I imagine an impassioned, interesting delivery, so I will certainly try to watch it sometime (I embedded the video below, so we can all watch together!).

The message is of course spot-on, and presented in such a straightforward, common sense way that I would be surprised if anyone could finish the (very, very short) book or speech and not agree that the concept that "feminism" is really just the idea that women are people too and should be treated as such. A must-read for everyone!
"The problem with gender if that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn't have the weight of gender expectations." (p. 34)



Keep reading! Beth

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Dominion by C.J. Sansom

Dominion (2012) by C.J. Sansom was exciting, disturbing, interesting, and -- given current events -- pretty depressing. The story offered an incredibly important view of "what if" the allies had tried appeasement and compromise in relation to Hitler's reign. In not fighting back against the evil, the allies became the evil.

Sansom did an especially good job of demonstrating how insidious nationalism can be, how dangerous the rhetoric of 'others' can be for all citizens, not just members of the 'other' groups. It was a stark reminder that targeting certain groups of people can seep into the core of a culture and lead to devastating consequences for not just the targeted groups but for everyone as well. I really try to avoid politics on this blog, but I can't help wondering -- are we there again, so gradually we didn't notice?

Outside of the message of the plot, the pacing of the story and writing was great -- definately a book I had trouble putting down! The characters were very well-developed, the settings described so well I could almost hear the strange echoes of footsteps running along the pavement in the fog, and the integration of real historical elements with fictional characters / events and speculation made for a very compelling read.

I truly reccomend this book to everyone based on the merits of the fiction by itself; the fact that the message is so resonant with current events is a bonus.
“Whenever a party tells you national identity matters more than anything else in politics, that nationalism can sort out all the other problems, then watch out, because you’re on a road that can end with fascism.” ― C.J. Sansom, Dominion

Keep reading! Beth

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

The Winter People (2014) by Jennifer McMahon is a wonderful book filled with excitement, mystery, troubling pasts, anticipation, and just enough of the supernatural (I won't say what kind -- that would give things away) to keep it interesting.

Flipping back and forth between the past and the present, I liked the connection that created, with the story weaving the two time periods together very effectively. The "New England" feel of both the setting and the story was very appealing and familiar to me as a life-long (and proud) New Englander myself.

Though the book has supernatural elements, the story was really more about loss and the relationships between mothers and daughters, both with good and especially with not-so-good associations, so don't let the idea of the supernatural turn you off if that's not normally your 'thing'. This is an excellent book to read in poor weather in a cozy chair with a hot drink. A perfect winter book (as the title implies)!

“I think people see what they want to see... But think about it: if you'd lost someone you love, wouldn't you give almost anything to have the chance to see them again?” 

Keep reading! Beth