Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Hours by Michael Cunningham (audio)

"We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live along in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes.  We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep.  It's as simple and ordinary as that.  A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we're very fortunate, by time itself.  There's just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult."

"What I wanted to do seemed simple.  I wanted something alive and shocking enough that it could be a morning in some body's life.  The most ordinary morning.  Imagine, trying to do that."

I tried reading this book a few years ago, and failed miserably.  I'm not sure why.  Now am I'm going through my bookshelves and listening to the books I haven't read yet, I came across it again.  I wasn't expecting to love it.  It was just another book to check of the list.  But I found myself drawn in from the first line.  The language was beautiful and the style of the novel reminded me of The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. It was a relatively short and simple story, but extremely profound and brilliant.  

I loved the idea of three women connected by a single book, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.  Their stories fit so effortlessly together in so many ways:

  • Virginia Woolf in 1923 begins to write the new novel, Mrs. Dalloway.  She suffers from severe depression and desperately wants to move back to London with her husband.
  • Clarissa Vaughan is the modern-day Mrs. Dalloway.  She is planning a party for her good friend (and former lover) Richard who is receiving a poetry away and dying of AIDS.  She goes through her day planning for the party: running errands, talking to old friends, and reflecting on Richard.  Charissa is happy with her partner Sally, but constantly thinks about how her life would have been different if her and Richard would have stayed together.
  • Laura Brown is a young wife and mother living in a Los Angeles suburb in 1949.  Her husband and son are perfect in every way, but she is not content with her simple life.  She begins the morning reading Mrs. Dalloway in bed and dreading the day where she will have to make a cake and celebrate her husband's birthday.  She goes through the day - exhausted and just wanting to read her book.  I didn't particularly like her, but I did find something appealing and familiar about just wanting to lose yourself in a good book instead of constantly going through the motions of everyday life.

I wish I would have read Mrs. Dalloway before reading this, but then again, maybe it will be interesting to read the book after as well.  


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Son by Lois Lowry (audio)

★ 1/2
"It'd be better, I think, to climb out in search of something, instead of hating what you're leaving."

I really enjoyed this book!  I read the first three books of the quartet a few years ago in my children's lit class, and was excited to see that Lowry had written a fourth and final book.  The book was written almost twenty years after The Giver and tells the story of Claire, Gabe's mother.  It comes full circle and begins in the society that Jonas and Gabe grew up in.  When Claire is assigned "birth mother" at the ceremony of twelve, she is a little disappointed, but takes her new role seriously.  After a troubling birth, her "product" survives, but it is deemed that Claire can no longer have children.  She is reassigned to the fish hatchery and is expected to forget her child.  As the months pass, finds herself drawn to Gabe.  When Jonas and Gabe leave the community (the ending of The Giver), Claire goes after then.  After her boat crashes, she finds herself in a new places and struggles to remember her past.  Over the years, memories of her son slowly come back to her and she is determined to find him.

I've been waiting a year or two to read this book and finally got around to it.  I loved Lois Lowry's unique description and world-building in the quartet.  I loved that each book focused on a different futuristic society. With so many "dytopian" books coming out lately, it was really interesting to read one that was started two decades ago.  A big comparison that I found was that these books didn't center as much on relationships. Recent books like The Hunger Games and Divergent have such huge themes of romance.  While entertaining, I feel that these aspects sometimes take away other elements of the book. There was some mention of young love and romance, but the main focus was the big picture of the characters and the different societies that had been created.  

I really liked Lowry's theme of community throughout the four books.  Each one focused on a very different type of community - often focusing on taking a logical idea to the extreme.  Some worked well (like in The Messenger and Son), and others ( like in The Giver and Gathering Blue) did not.  It was also interesting to see how the different communities dealt with problems they were having.  The books had a lot of political themes and brought of questions of sacrifice and choices.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Messenger by Lois Lowry

"That's why they call you Seer.  You see more than most."

Updated: 5/23/2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

"Take pride in your pain; you are stronger than those who have none."

Updated: 5/22/2014

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Clockwork Fairy Tales: A Collection of Steampunk Fables by Stephen L. Antczak (audio)

★ 1/2
" 'Not my job to judge, boy.' Baba Yaga filled and fit the pipe again.  'But I do observe that its difficult to escape familiar patterns.  When you live your life with cruel words, you look for people to give them to you.  When you escape and evil stepmother, you take an uncaring bride.  When your father throws you out, you love someone who won't love you back.  And to keep yourself in cruelty, you're willing to risk head and hands on the mayors side board.  Keep the pattern going. Hm.' "

Short stories are hard to review.  I found myself really enjoying some of the stories, but others not so much. This collection combines classic fairy-tales with steampunk.  I found the incorporate of steampunk elements in the stories to be really interesting and I'm always up for fairy-tales.  My first introduction to the "steampunk genre" was last year when I read Clockwork Angels by Cassandra Clare.  I had to do a bit of research because I knew practically nothing about it - definitely a unique genre!  My favorite stories from the collection included La Valse, Fair Vasyl, You Will Attend Until Beauty Awakens, and The Mechanical Wings.

I've always been really interested in fairy-tales and re-tellings of them.  I am currently reading the Barnes and Noble edition of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy-tales - and I have Brother's Grimm waiting on my dresser.  Since I listened to the audio book, I had a hard time finding a complete list for the fairy-tales.  Here's what I came up with:

La Valse by K.W. Jeter - based on The Red Shoes by Hans Christian Andersen

Fair Vasyl by Stephen Harper - based on Vasilisa the Beautiful by Alexander Afanasyev and tales of Baby Yaga

The Hollow Hounds by Kat Richardson - based on The Tinderbox by Hans Christian Andersen

The Kings of Mount Golden by Paul Di Filippo - based on The King of the Golden Mountain by The Brothers Grimm

You Will Attend Until Beauty Awakens by Jay Lake - based on Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault with an adaptation of Little Briar Rose by The Brothers Grimm

Mose and the Automatic Fireman by Nancy A. Collins - based on legends of Mose the Fireboy

The Clockwork Suit by G.K. Hayes - based on The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen

The Steampiper, the Stovepiper, and the Pied Piper of New Hamelin, Texas by Gregory Nicoll - based on legends of the Pied Piper

The Mechanical Wings by Pip Ballantine - based on The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen

The Giver by Lois Lowry

"The worst part of holding of holding the memories is not the pain.  It's the loneliness of it.  Memories need to be shared."

Updated: 5/20/2014

Since Lois Lowry's fourth and final book of the Giver Quartet, "Son" came out a few years ago, I figured I should re-read the whole series again.  Luckily, they are quite short and I listened to this one in less than two days.  

I can't say enough good things about this book!  It's one of those books that can be re-read again and again and you still find something new and interesting about it.  I loved Lowry's ability to create a dystopian world in less than 200 pages.  She had me hooked from the very beginning.

The reality is that there are both good and bad parts of life.  In Jonas's society, all of the "bad things" have been taken away to create a "perfect" world.  Everything is the same.  Everything is provided for.  There is no pain.  No suffering.  Everything is decided in the best interest of the people.  When Jonas is choose to receive special training from the Giver, he begins to realize that the world that was created, is also missing the love, pleasure, and pain of life before.  As he is slowly introduced to the memories of the past, he also sees the true horrors of his society.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is the simple layout of a world where everything bad is taken away.  Every negative thing about life could have a solution, but at what cost?  

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

"I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right."

"I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality.  But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know?  I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimated the human race - that rarely do I ever simply estimate it.  I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so ugly and so glorious, and its words and stories so damning and brilliant."

Updated: 5/7/2014

The movie is coming out, so I listed to his as an audio book this past week.  I loved it just as much as I did a few years ago and it remains one of my favorite books.  The story is subtle, yet extremely powerful.  I have always loved the character of Liesel and the connection between books and words throughout the novel.  I enjoyed listening the the audio version, but I missed a lot of the formatting and drawings that were in the print version - especially Max's stories that he wrote for Liesel.