Category Archive: Adult

Halloween Treat – Edgar Allan Poe

poe_coverSo, we have crisp fall nights. We have costumes. We have buckets and pillowcases brimming with treats. We have pumpkins grinning and flashights swinging. We have screams, haunted houses, whisps of dry ice floating around ruby red slippers, cowboy boots, and superhero tights.

We have arrived at All Hallows’ Eve. Bwahaha.

I’m not a big fan of horror, but I have to admit the impact of writers like Anne Rice, Steven King, and other modern authors, even Lemony Snicket, who got kids reading and scared the bejesus out of them.

But I have to give props to the best of the best, the man who started it all, Edgar Allen Poe. Remember reading The Raven in English/Literature class in high school? That was SO COOL, and scary, and awesome. I didn’t sleep for weeks. I stayed away from Poe, but my brother got into him and read everything and used to tell me parts of the Telltale Heart and other scary stories to the point I’d put my hands over my ears and scream.

Mom said to stop scaring the little tyke.

Poe died before the Civil War, so his writing is somewhat formal, and it fits the genre, but he didn’t always write horror. He wrote about adventure on the high seas, buried pirate treasure, and a famous balloon ride. He virtually invented the detective story with tales like “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter”. Sherlock Holmes and other fictional detectives would later be based on the characters that Poe created. Poe wrote love stories and even a few strange little comedies. But mostly, he indulged in gothic horror.

A few spooky quotes to get your Halloween on:

“It was night, and the rain fell; and falling, it was rain, but, having fallen, it was blood.” from “Silence – A Fable”

He pointed to garments;-they were muddy and clotted with gore. I spoke not, and he took me gently by the hand; –it was indented with the impress of human nails. He directed my attention to some object against the wall; –I looked at it for some minutes; –it was a spade. With a shriek I bounded to the table, and grasped the box that lay upon it. But I could not force it open; and in my tremor it slipped from my hands, and fell heavily, and burst into pieces; and from it, with a rattling sound, there rolled out some instruments of dental surgery, intermingled with thirty-two small, white and ivory-looking substances that were scattered to and fro about the floor. From “Berenice

There was blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold, then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated. From “The House of Usher”

Poe was indeed a troubled man; some said he was insane, and his writing certainly may prove that. All his stories and poems point to death, alcoholism, and troubled souls. The Black Cat is narrated by what is described as an “unreliable narrator”. We question his sanity from the start, and by the end we are quite sure he is not altogether sane.

Poe was reviled for his day; some quotes tell us his writings were laughable and badly written

Your treat for tonight? Read The Raven. http://www.heise.de/ix/raven/Literature/Lore/TheRaven.html

indexSleep well.

You’re welcome.

 

 

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/halloween-treat-edgar-allan-poe/

What We’re Reading: Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction is our genre for September. It would seem pretty clear cut; historical fiction takes place in the past. But the genre definition is complicated by time itself. Whereas, we might consider The Great Gatsby or Grapes of Wrath works of historical fiction, in actuality, when written, they would have been considered contemporary fiction.

These days, genres are sometimes blended by authors. So a work may be historical fiction in one part of the book and contemporary fiction in another as the work moves back and forth between time periods. The Chaperone is an example of that, as is one of today’s novels for review.

 

Sharon’s Pick: ORPHAN TRAIN: A NOVEL by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train: A Novel

Orphan Train: A Novel

I have been fascinated with the Orphan Train piece of American history for more than 40 years. At one time, I had read all the books available. That time is past. More books were written. My interests moved on to other areas. But I never forgot my intrigue; I still have a computer folder on Orphan Train facts and figures and research resources. But, while not forgotten, the Orphan Train episodes got pushed to a back drawer of my mind, lying fallow, waiting for me to finally write that novel I promised to do long ago.

Now I needn’t bother. Christina Baker Kline wrote the book I wish I had written. And over 9200 reviews on Amazon would seem to support my admiration for her novel.

Kline’s prose sings as you read it. She possesses amazing skill with description and dialogue. There was never a page, paragraph, or sentence I skipped through. She engages you from the start and never lets go of her grip until the end. Actually, that is inaccurate. I am still gripped by the tale and think of it occasionally.

Before there were state-run child-welfare systems, the orphan trains, removing children to new homes in the Midwest, were seen as a solution to the hordes of young children in poverty in their homes or living on the streets of New York City and other East Coast cities. Between 1853 and 1929, more than 200,000 were relocated to the Midwest and beyond. New York City alone accounted for more than 30,000 children in the 1850s.

Though most were, not all the children were orphans. Authorities deemed relocating children preferable to letting them stay with families struggling to survive. And most of the transported children were not willing riders. The fears and expectations of these youngsters are an aspect Kline develops so well.

Through a variety of circumstances, Vivian, a rich old lady in Maine, meets Molly, a Penobscot teen in the state’s foster care system who is assigned to help her. Vivian’s stories of the 1920s and 1930s intertwine with those of  modern-day Molly, making for some interesting contrasts and comparisons. Given my fascination with the orphan train phenomenon, I found the story in the past more compelling than Molly’s tale.

But Molly’s tale as a foster child served as an important counterpoint and contributed to the book as a whole. Molly either works court-ordered community service hours or ends up in the juvenile justice system. She chooses, wisely, to help Vivian. The job? Clear the attic’s decades-old accumulations in various trunks. Molly knows that she and a rich old lady living in a big house have nothing in common. She is not coming to the task with a glad heart.

As they work together, Vivian shares stories attached to the items. Vivian reveals she was a “rider” who lost her home and even her name. Vivian’s survival of worse conditions than Molly’s helps the teen realize how much they have in common. A bond forms between Vivian and Molly leading us to believe that Molly, too, will survive the child welfare system and thrive in her new world. She sees how similar their two situations have been and learns to see beyond herself and her own circumstances. Developing empathy is very difficult for abused children since they can find it hard to get outside of themselves and their needs.

I personally connected with this book. From my perspective, as someone whose mother grew up bouncing around from the orphanage to various foster situations, the story told a truth about how we treated unfortunate children in the past and how we still do today. Oh, the situations differ, of course, but abuse, whether physical or emotional, is still endemic, sadly. If Christina Baker Kline’s novel shines a light on that, she has accomplished far more than she may have set out to do.

 

KATHY’S PICK: Sky of Red Poppies, by Zohreh Ghahremani

9307359The title intrigued me.

“Maybe the poppies’ secret, their significance, indeed what made them so unique, lay in their brief existence. Like the misty memory of my mother, something about the poppies both dazzled and troubled me.”

Ghahremani’s prose is, at times, breathtaking. Her ability to capture the essence of a sixteen-year-old’s feelings of fear and awakening is awe-inspiring. As you read and become enveloped in this fearsome world, you are pulled in and become a part of it.

Not many books do that for me.

This one, written by a local author here in San Diego, is engaging and horrific. Ghahremani was born and raised in Iran, and I wondered as I read it how much was sheer storytelling and how much was based on reality.

The central characters in this small, elegant, and eye-opening book are two schoolgirls in 1960’s Iran who come from decidedly different backgrounds. Roya is born to a wealthy family, sheltered from the ugliness of life. But there are secrets.

Shireen comes from a more modest background, completely aware of the real world and angry about the Shah’s attitude toward his people. She is deeply religious, and Roya is not. Shireen is fiercely independent, allowed to speak her mind and question authority in her head. Roya is subservient and quiet. You can feel the tension in this girl/woman who knows the truth, but is careful to choose her audience because she knows the SAVAK, the secret police, are everywhere.

They meet in school where Roya begins to admire Shireen’s strength and learns of her questioning nature toward government. This awareness is added to by the teacher, a man who openly questions the government while teaching, and subsequently loses his job. The ignorance is peeled away for Roya, and she opens her eyes to the truth of her circumstances.

Roya witnesses a fellow student being hauled away by SAVAK, a force that literally eliminates any opposition. That student was never seen again, and it is the beginning of her awakening. Roya’s father had cautioned her not to discuss the secret police with anyone but never told her why.

Her tentative questions at home are shot down quickly and she begins to talk to others quietly about the forbidden subjects of government and how the Shah conducts their lives, how little choice they have to live freely. She and Shireen and Shireen’s brother have guarded conversations and question each other about the truth and what’s right.

The family secrets, the threat of SAVAK coming to the door, and the relationships between the adults and the younger generation are explored fully. Several threads emerge to follow throughout the story, some horrific, some tragic, some sweet.

At the conclusion, Roya lives in America and when it comes time to sell her father’s house, she brings her son and begins to reflect on her past. The sweetness and regret are palpable for a young mother who has finally made a life for herself on her own terms. You always knew she would, but how she garnered the strength and grew in the face of a revolution is the gripping part of the story.

Roya and Shireen had kept a diary they traded back and forth. “Now that the fog of ignorance has lifted, what used to be hope for the future has turned into regrets of the past. The lion’s den had been there all along in clear view, and only a step away. Years later, it is so easy to see the many signs of danger that we missed. I open the diary to a page where I have written, ‘Hooray, Shireen is coming to my house!’ And all of a sudden, I am seventeen again, anticipating the thrill of finally having my friend over.”

Poppies represented emotions to Roya – the blood red color reminded her of the revolution in the streets. The bright red was a happy, hopeful color. The odor of them caused fear; the opium her father smoked at first socially, then obsessively, came from the poppies and evoked sadness and fear. She saw the poppies come from the earth, strong, lifting themselves toward the sun, then bending face down into the earth in complete humility.

A great read. Not a light, beach read for sure, but I highly recommend picking this up when you get a chance.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/what-were-reading-historical-fiction/

What We’re Reading: Reviewing the Classics

We at Writeonsisters decided to take on some classics, and attempt to define why they were so revered and have held up so well ever since they were published. It made us think about the definition of art; who exactly defines what a good book is? Sales? Reputation? Does the fact that a book has been universally dictated as required reading for high schoolers have something to do with it?

 

Kathy’s choiceCatcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger

220px-Rye_catcherI remember reading this in high school for an English class. My mom had to sign a permission slip to read it because of the language. Sheesh.

Back then I thought it was kind of cool, the way Holden Caufield saw life. The cynicism, the questioning of authority, the rebelliousness was something we could all identify with, and therein lies its attractiveness. He captures the sense of angst, the confusion, and the depression that all teens identify with. He speaks of them and directly to them.

As an adult, and a parent, I found it, what…troubling? Annoying? Frustrating? Why is it, then, that this book, so relevant to a teen in 1951, is still considered, for want of a better term, the Great American Novel (some have said it was the best book ever written)? A few reviewers said it had not been written particularly well, and several said is was not worth their time. Perhaps they, like me, are too old for it.

I discovered a few things in reading about the book: that the name Holden is the name of a car, and therefore, the character is supposed to be the vehicle (get it?) for the story. Hunh? And the story is really about World War II. Hunh? Salinger actually wrote it in the middle of World War II while he was in the Army in Europe, so I can see where that idea came from.

But let’s talk about the story. This sixteen year old who has been kicked out of prep school wanders around New York City for a few days. He seems to have unlimited funds, and his parents are nowhere to be found. He is entitled, superior, and opinionated. He is whiny, depressed, and socially inept. But then, Salinger interjects direct pulls of the heartstrings – a little sister Holden adores, a little brother who died of leukemia, and an older brother that sounds a lot like Salinger himself. Holden hires a hooker just to talk to him (how sad is that?). Salinger pushes our buttons at just the right time to keep us from going over the edge.

Here are the hard and fast rules for a novel: a story has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. There has to be conflict, an antagonist, a climax, and a denouement.

Somebody call the literary police, because I didn’t find any of those formulaic necessities in this story.

And yet this is supposed to be an American classic. Why? It’s the voice – Salinger has created this character only by his voice. You get very little description of his physical being, if any, now that I think about it. But the voice. It gets you. It really does.

That’s the one thing that I believe sets this book apart from others of its genre. But the big stuff? If it really is about World War II, then I completely missed it – way too subtle for me. I missed the message, too, whatever it was. All I got was a story about a kid who was really unhappy and worried about becoming a phony (read: adult).

I wonder if, in today’s market, it wouldn’t be filed under YA.

 

Sharon’s Pick: The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

Dorian-Gray-001I wonder if this “Hamlet” quotation gave Oscar Wilde his story premise:

“Like the painting of a sorrow,

A face without a heart.”

I really wanted to re-read this book because I read it decades ago and it scared me then. The notion of making a pact with “the devil” is a common theme in books and movies today. Not so much when Wilde wrote the novel.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) is a morality play of sorts. Innocent, unaffected, beautiful young man realizes his physical attributes through the intercession of another and will give ANYTHING to retain that beauty.

The main principles of the story are said beautiful young man, Dorian Gray; Basil Hallward, the artist who amazingly captured that beauty in a portrait, and Lord Henry Wolcott, a jaded, cynical, pedantic who takes on the task of debauching, in a philosophical way, the spirit of Dorian Gray. Dorian succumbs to the realization of his beauty and what the loss will mean so he wishes aloud for the portrait to age while his visage remains the same.

The affect on Dorian when he sees the ravages wrought on the painting not only by aging, but by his sins, is what makes this psychological thriller work today. We are fascinated by Dorian’s devolution, even as he begins to gain pleasure from observing the portrait’s changes.

Wilde knew how to throw in escalating crises to increase tension. And the ending is thoroughly satisfying.

In the re-reading, one of the first things to strike me is how different books are today in terms of expectations. The Picture of Dorian Gray has no beginning hook, the formality of language reflects patterns of the past, and novel conventions we take for granted are “violated”. One sentence early on runs on for nine lines of text. Here is the opening line:

“The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”

Lovely, but no editor today would accept as the opener a 40+ word description, even in literary fiction. In other places, the paragraphs can go on for as long as two pages. One paragraph. And that happened more than once.

Another oddity that wouldn’t fly in today’s reading world is the philosophical tone and preachments throughout. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a text I would use if I were teaching a seminar class in philosophy. The arguments one could have! The insights into character revealed by those perspectives and others reactions to the perspectives would make for rich fodder in debating the merits of utilitarianism vs hedonism vs romanticism vs cynicism vs narcissism, and so on. Fascinating. But, for the most part, not in a novel for today’s readers.

Lord Henry, a pivotal plot-point character does most of the philosophizing. He is given to utterances like:

“But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face.”

And:

“…that is one of the great secrets of life–to cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul.”

Lord Henry is the only one around Dorian who is not appalled by his lasciviousness and debauchery. Experiencing, indulging oneself, those are virtues Lord Henry encourages and supports.

Does this book hold up? I found myself slogging through turgid prose in many places, but the plot line is universal and engaging. Buckle in, be prepared for extensive exposition, but hang on for the read. There is a reason this book stuck with me for nearly 50 years.

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/reviewing-the-classics/

What We’re Reading: Mysteries

QuestionsMysteries! There’s something about them that pulls readers in. Maybe it’s the puzzling out alongside the protagonist. Maybe it’s the urge to learn new stuff like what IS an undetectable poison. Maybe mysteries appeal because you get a two-fer (or more): the traditional structure of a novel with its plot and then the crime that interferes with the character’s lives and must be resolved to re-establish the status quo.

The range of mystery sub-genres means there is likely something for anyone who likes mysteries. You can get a cozy (off-screen murder) with an amateur sleuth that often offers something else like recipes or knitting patterns all the way to police procedurals that give all the gory detail one would want along with info about how professionals solve crimes.

 

Today, we offer reviews of mysteries with humor.

 

Sharon’s Pick: MURDER SHE TYPED by Sylvia Selfman

51QfAK+y2yL._AA160_Murder She Typed, an Izzy Greene Senior Snoops Mystery is the first in this delightful new series. The book sort of fits a category I like to call “crone lit”, literature featuring “women of a certain age”. Not that Izzly likes being a “woman of a certain age” which creates its own hilarious moments.

Izzy is writing a book. Or is she? She joins a retirement-crowd writer’s group seeking inspiration and motivation to finish her novel, but despite encouragement from her teacher and some classmates, she struggles with finishing anything, even short stories. She is self-deprecatory but essentially has a good sense of self which is needed as she becomes embroiled in crime.

The cast of characters includes her smart-mouthed friend who challenges Izzy to be better, but supports her when she can’t. The writing group is filled with seniors’ humor and stereotypes that work well in this context (Early Bird dinner specials, seeking free stuff, and so on). Oh, and the senior dating scene provides lots of humor and angst for Izzy and friends.

All seems to be going well until one of the writing group members dies. Or is she dead? And is someone coming after Izzy because she investigates in her haphazard way? Or is she just being paranoid? Certainly the police don’t help, so Izzy, reluctantly solves the crime.

One problem with many cozy mysteries is that some things an amateur detective does defies rational thought, and this book is guilty of the same. Sometimes, too, she puts things together rather quickly from sparse clues, another flaw in many cozies.

Izzy takes risks, given all that befalls her, that sometimes don’t make sense. If you think someone is out to kill you, why would you agree to meet in a dark and secluded area? If you suspend disbelief, and just go with it, you can enjoy the fun of the mystery, but don’t expect to learn how to really solve crimes!

If you like your murders with humor, this new series of Senior Snoops Mysteries might be your poison.

 


 

Kathy’s Pick:  JUST ADD WATER – the Hetta Coffey Mysteries by Jinx Schwartz

schwartz1-justaddwater webI needed a distraction this long, looonnggg weekend. On the advice of one of my writeonsisters, I downloaded the first book of Jinx Schwartz’s Hetta Coffey series, Just Add Water. My nose didn’t come up from my iPad except for certain life maintenance issues – food, water, wine, and bathroom breaks.

Having just now finished the sixth book of the series, JUST NEEDS KILLIN’, I can truly say my weekend was hot, steamy, funny, relaxing, and a jolly romp. I suspended my disbelief and just went with it. Don’t be impressed – the six books are fast, easy, and move quickly.

Hetta Coffey has a snazzy yacht and she’s not afraid to use it. She’s a thirty-something single engineer, low on love and luck, high on libido. Her BFF Jan is the beauty, she is the brawn. Together they make some alcohol-fueled fun, get into scrapes, and flirt, drink, and swear like sailors. The one-liner’s’ll kill ya.

These are two Texas gems who grab life by the cajones and pull. Their menfolk, when they finally find and commit to them, are not amused. Hetta and Jan go off on their romps willy-nilly like silly twits and always come up smelling like roses – and are always rescued by a man who turns out to be a good guy – or is he?

We start out with Hetta, recently back from a two-year jaunt in Tokyo, where she was engaged to a man who turned out to be a criminal. Somehow he ends up face down in her hot tub in her renovated house in Oakland. The hijinks spring from there.

You’re pulled in by the strong females, the dog, the house, and the idea of starting over. Hetta somehow buys a boat. Not a boat, a yacht. An expensive, top of the line, luxury yacht. She has no experience and is completely, blissfully unaware of what’s ahead. She sells her house after her dog dies (the only real slice of life), moves on board and promptly takes the vessel down to Mexico.

We have murder, suspense, drug-running, a bird that does tricks, murder (did I say that already?), a beheading or two, sunken ships, pirates, Saudi princes, scads of money being spent, nuclear rods, winery business, kidnappings, wine, gin, beer, bloody marys, crates of champagne, what we suspect is an undercover agent or two, (but we never find out) and wine (did I say that already?) an iguana, a crazy aunt, and finally a new dog.

That’s just for starters.

The last book was a bit disappointing, in that Hetta, who I had thought a nice, strong female who may not follow the rules, at least had some integrity. She did the wrong thing for the right reason, using the-end-justified-the-means-mentality. But in the first few pages, we discover she wants to kill someone. Really kill them. Then she and Jan have plans to take some of the goods from a sunken treasure galleon for their own gain, even when they are on a junket run by Jan’s boyfriend to recover the lost treasure – lost by his own ancestors! In the end they don’t rob the entire thing, but do manage to creep away with a few treasures in secret. Disappointing.

JNKWhat we have here are six books that are pure and simple beach reads. Nothing too taxing, scary, or contemplative. Just right for a long, hot weekend. Take them all, as I did, and drop everything else in your life (sometimes you just have to stop the world and get off), or take them bits and pieces at a time, and enjoy the ride.

As for me, I’ll stay a landlubber, thank you very much. It’s safer.

 

 

 

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/what-were-reading-mysteries/

What We’re Reading: Women’s Fiction

Women’s fiction is our category this month. Just what is women’s fiction? Literature with women protagonists appear along a continuum of literary fiction to erotica. Quite a spread! Women’s fiction is closer to the literary fiction end but without the self-consciousness and pretension of literary fiction. By the same token, while there may be a love interest in women’s fiction, it differs from chicklit in the amount and focus of the love interest. Women’s fiction is between those two points.

Additionally, women’s fiction keeps focus on the heroine’s character arc as she seeks to learn more about herself and her role in life. In women’s fiction, she takes full responsibility for that development without needing the intervention of a male to define her. Women’s fiction confronts broader issues of societal value and not just the personal issues of the heroine.

 

Kathy’s Pick: THE GOLDFINCH, by Donna Tratt

Goldfinch webThere are some books you just want to crawl into and live in for a bit. This started out that way, and I was pleased the book was so long (771 pages) so that I could enjoy this for a while. I settled in for the ride. Theo is a young man who is with his beloved mother in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City when a terrorist bomb goes off. Tratt’s prose is excellent, so beautiful describing the love, the horror, and the destruction of the moment when to bomb goes off. He loses his mother, but gains a portrait of a Goldfinch he hides for the rest of his life. The relationship he forms with his best friend’s family in their posh upper Manhattan penthouse apartment is complicated and fun to be with for a while. Then his father comes and takes him away to Las Vegas. That’s where the book lost all of its charm for me. The tough, hard-drinking dad, the evil stepmom and the scary loan sharks hanging around were a bit too clichéd for me. You could almost sense the story before you read it, no surprises. The only friend he made in Las Vegas was Boris, a druggie who entices Theo to join him in illegal adventures and a life less structured, smoking joints, popping pills, and ditching school. I ached for Theo and this turn of his life. He was so much better than that. But that’s okay, I thought, I’ll wait for the redemption. But it never came. His drug use escalated and he lost his way. The last third of the book was a major disappointment, and I was left completely unsatisfied. Tratt fast-forwarded his life after picking it apart almost day by day, only to find no resolution to his relationship with his then-fiancee (for whom I had absolutely no sympathy). He lied and stole money from the shop he ran with his mentor, who, inexplicably, was not angry his entire life savings, his shop, and his reputation was on the line. The man threatening him with exposure, who knew of Theo’s subterfuge, disappeared into thin air. Several threads were left loose. But what offended me most were the last thirty pages when Tratt began to prostheletize about life – the meaning of, the lessons for, and the reasons being – of life. She became very philosophical and preachy. I found myself skipping over most of the last third of the book just to find out what happened to the characters and find the wrap-up. There was none to speak of. A bit disappointing; it started out so well and then flopped.

 

Sharon’s Pick: ON THE ISLAND: A NOVEL, by Tracy Garvis Graves

on-the-island-penguin-cover

On the Island: A Novel is one of those books that keeps popping into your head at odd moments. Perhaps the book is haunting because of the taboo subject matter. Perhaps I keep thinking about it because the characters and the situation were so authentic despite the desert island circumstances. Perhaps it’s just because it is so well-written. On the Island: A Novel isn’t pure women’s fiction, however, because chapters are told in the point of view of the two main characters, rather than only from the woman’s perspective.

High School teacher Anna Emerson agrees to a summer tutoring gig that is unusual and glamorous. T.J., 16 years old, fought and won a long battle with a disease that resulted in missed school and a young man very behind in his studies. His parents offer Anna a tutoring job on an Indonesian island for the summer. Due to a series of circumstances, she and T.J. have to fly separately from the parents who go ahead to their posh island home.

It is no spoiler, since the plane crash happens within the first few pages and from the title, to say that Anna and T.J. wash up on a desert island and have to figure out a way to survive. Anna, knowing that T.J.’s health could still be fragile, worries about a recurrence almost as much as the struggle for daily survival.

Graves also does settings really well. Her island descriptions put you right there along with T.J. and Anna. You felt the ever-present grit and smelled the sea.

Neither Anna nor T.J. has outdoorsy skill sets. Life is very tough as they discover, often the hard way, what it means to provide shelter, food, and protection. As each day of non-rescue passes, Anna and T.J. learn to accept the inevitability of this new life. That they fall in love is no surprise either. Years alone together create a mutual respect that deepens into love despite the considerable age difference.

The surprise is what happens after they leave the island. Should they, could they, must they conceal their relationship? Society certainly would disapprove. And maybe the bond they forged wasn’t really love, but a relationship of circumstance and necessity. Once back to normalcy, how can they maintain a taboo lifestyle.

I enjoyed the first part of the book on the island more than the second when they were back in civilization. While the hard questions of what their relationship meant were dealt with, I felt the ramifications could have been explored more deeply. Still, the issues were compelling and the emotions raw.

As a former educator, I should have been shocked and appalled at the story line of On the Island: A Novel. But it is a testament to Graves’ writing chops that when the 30-something teacher and her teen pupil fall in love, one is not repelled. It appears to be the natural consequence of their isolation and fate.

Both sympathy and empathy are invoked in this unusual and provocative love story. I highly suggest it as a great summer read, memories of which you will carry into the fall.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/what-were-reading-womens-fiction/

What We’re Reading: Sci-Fi

May always makes me want a long slow read. A book I can sink my teeth into. Something that pairs nicely with the last lazy days of spring. When I can still enjoy an hour or two by a sunny window, and the kids are still deeply involved with school friends and functions enough to let me. All too soon summer will crash into my house, bringing with it the frantic preparations for backpacking trips, and long car rides for exhilarating and exhausting days beachside. We’ve selected Science Fiction for our monthly read. We hope you find something here to match your mood. Spring only lasts a blink of an eye, so slow down and savor it.

Caryn’s Pick: ONE SECOND AFTER by William R. Forstchen

One Second AfterI love SciFi but don’t seem to read much of it, so I had to go on the hunt for a book this month. I chose One Second After by New York Times bestselling author, William R. Forstchen.

Dr. Forstchen has written over 40 books, many on military history and military technology. Before it even debuted the novel was cited on the floor of Congress as something every citizen in the U.S. should read…“a dire warning of what might be our future…and our end.” Well! That got my attention!

The story takes place in the small North Carolina town of Black Mountain where one man struggles to save his family and his town, after the U.S. loses a war. A war based on EMP­­—Electro Magnetic Pulse…which means setting off a nuclear warhead miles up over land. The electromagnetic field generated destroys every computer…in a single second! Cars, trains and planes crash immediately. Water and electric power grids fail, medical equipment, phones and radios cease to function. The small town in which the story is set reverts to a barter economy and its shops soon run out of food and medicines. America is thrust back into the Dark Ages. This story is a truly realistic look at a weapon that the Wall Street Journal warns could shatter America. And you can’t help but wonder what you would do in such a situation.

Some of the prose ventured into the “corny” in my opinion, as he loves to have his characters sing the National Anthem at any number of turns and often quotes scripture and literature. He frequently cites scenes from movies as a way of showing how his characters can’t believe this is actually happening to them, and that got a bit tiresome. The story starts out slowly and I would have enjoyed a bigger bang when the EMP hits, but I guess his point is that it took a while for people to truly grasp the dire nature of the situation and it’s global impact. The emerging “love story” seemed awkward at times, but I figure that’s not exactly his forte. The second half picked up and the ending was sad, but riveting, appropriately dismal, with just a touch of hope thrown in to keep us from feeling totally depressed. The other major criticism I have is that the writing could have benefited from another edit. Problems like “could of” and “should of” instead of could have and should have; and when did it become okay to use OK, as in “Everything will be OK.”? I can see it in dialogue sometimes, but he used it excessively, and IMO, incorrectly, to the point of distraction. Lots of repeated words occurred on the same page. And two characters have the same name: Jen and Jennifer. But the message is important and well worth the read.

This is a book everyone should read. Sort of like what Edward Snowden is telling us. Our country has a lot more problems and issues to resolve than the average citizen understands. Wake up America! There is more danger lurking out there than you could ever imagine!

 

Robin’s Pick: THE 5th WAVE by Rick Yancey

5th Wave The 5th Wave takes place on present day Earth during an alien invasion. Cassie an average American sixteen-year-old girl, finds herself alone and searching for her family. She has already survived the first four waves of an attack which devastated the world and killed off about 90% of the population. The setting and world building are typical of most dystopian literature. The aliens are unseen, only the passing mention of their ships hovering in the sky creates any sense of atmosphere. To be honest, I was hoping for something with a more traditional sci-fi feel, and with more “science.” This is by no means a new take in alien invasion literature, but it’s not one of my personal favorites. The story opens rather slowly, and I didn’t find it particularly interesting until over a 100 pages in. I found both male leads engaging in different ways. However, Cassie the lead female protagonist, never connected with me. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I will say the book broke one of my reader rules and hurt a lot of young kids. This is something Yancey did in the last book I read by him too. Review here. However both times it was plot related and not gratuitous.

If you’re looking for a book with lots of action, blood, gore, and death, but light on science and world building this might be the perfect book for you. And should you find it highly entertaining, you’ll be happy to hear the second book will be out in a few months.

 

Heather’s Pick: STARTERS by Lissa Price

BookCover-StartersSome would say this novel falls under the dystopia category, but I’m putting it in sci-fi because the concept relies on some pretty crazy future tech.

Sometime in the future, after a biochemical war killed everyone between the ages of 20 and 60, the only people left alive in America are kids (called Starters) and old people (called Enders). Some Starters have Ender grandparents to look after them, but most are orphans who live on the street (like the main character Callie and her brother), or in horrible orphanages that sell kids into slave labor. Meanwhile the Enders work middle-class jobs or live off their retirement riches. Starters aren’t allowed to work, at least not legally. Which leaves Callie, who needs money to pay for her little brother’s medicine and get them off the street, exploring the only option available to her: renting her body to Enders who want to experience being young again. How does that work? They put a Starter’s brain to sleep, and through a neuro-chip allow the Ender’s brain to take over the Starter’s body, essentially living in it for the duration of the rental period. So creepy!

This novel is a fast-paced action adventure that doesn’t hit you over the head with the deep sociological issues at the root of the story, yet never lets you forget them. Some reviewers wanted more “depth” with regard to exploring these issues, but I appreciated how the author allows the reader to experience them as the plot unfolds instead of preaching them. There’s also a romance that thankfully plays into the plot instead of detracting from it.

So if you’re looking for an action-packed YA sci-fi that also makes you think, check out STARTERS by Lissa Price.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/what-were-reading-for-may/

What We’re Reading: “W” is for Wicked

AtoZBadge-LetterW

Here at the Writeonsisters, the last Saturday of the month is always What We’re Reading. This month it also happens to be “W” day of The A to Z Blog Challenge. There are many book themes we could have picked that start with W (writing, whodunit, war, etc.), but we chose “wicked.” I guess we’re all a little fascinated with the dark side…

 

Heather’s Pick:

HORNS by Joe Hill

BookCover-HornsMost of what I read is YA fiction, but I’m currently seeking horror/thriller stories and haven’t found many good ones in teen lit. So I turned to Joe Hill. HORNS is the story of a young man who wakes up one morning with devil horns growing out of his head and now everyone he encounters tells him their wickedest deeds and desires. It’s a wonderfully twisted concept that inevitably prompts the reader to worry about the evil in everyone. What would people say if they were compelled to blurt out their darkest secrets or profess their sins? The horror in this novel comes from the atrocious things the characters have done, are still doing, and may do more of in the future. And even though the main character has horns and seems to have turned into the devil, you still root for him to stop the really bad guy.

 

 

Caryn’s Pick: 

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of WitchesWicked is one of my favorite words. It sort of became a cliché a few years ago, used as an exclamation for almost anything great. I usually associate it with witches, and as a child one of my favorite books, ever, was The Little Witch. I read it when I was about ten and have tried to find it again, but to no avail. The Little Witch’s mother was, of course, a witch, and she transformed all the annoying children in the neighborhood into flowers that she kept on her windowsill in small clay pots. The little witch eventually outsmarts her mother and returns the lost children to their homes.

Deborah Harkness’s debut novel, A Discovery of Witches, tapped into my intrigue about witches and I found it to be a mature, intellectual story about a modern-day college professor who unexpectedly finds herself immersed in a world of witches and vampires.

Diana Bishop, a young scholar and descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, deep in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Its reappearance awakens her connection to a past she’s been trying to ignore and summons up a fantastical underworld that she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont. One thing that did start to wear on me was her incessant tea-drinking. It became a distraction. I love tea, but really, the character used it as a salve for nearly every stressor in the story.

Harkness created a contemporary story of magic and suspense that is much more than a supernatural tale. It’s an intelligent consideration of genetic mating, powers, and history that acquaints the reader with the Philosopher’s Stone, alchemy and so much more. And then there’s the sweet romance that seems doomed on every level. A boyfriend who is a professor and a vampire? Replete with Gothic mansion? Really? And yes, I loved it!

And there are two more books if this one strikes your fancy and I just learned there’s a movie in the works! Oh yeah!

 

Robin’s Pick
AOfS WebALCHEMY OF STONE by Ekaterina Sedia
This book has a whole lot of wicked and interesting stuff going on. A society crumbling, a cruel inventor, hosts of revolutionaries, a few spies, some restless ghost, dying gargoyles, and of course Mattie, a brilliant automaton who works as an alchemist. Mattie is the only machine of her kind. She lives a strange little life in her shop, helping those who come to her door with her personal brand of alchemy, a blend of science and magic. She’s an emancipated automaton, almost free of her inventor, but not quite. He refuses to give up her key, the one that fits her heart, winds her gears and keeps her going. We get the sense he holds the key captive for complex reasons, first because he wants to keep Mattie loyal to him. Since he’s a mechanic and she is an alchemist, and they are the two groups battling for governmental control, one could assume his reasons are solidly political, but I don’t think so. Theirs is a complicated relationship, and I got the feeling unrequited love, envy, jealousy and much more are simmering under the surface of their civil exchanges.

As the book evolves it’s clear that Mattie is in possession of much greater understanding of civic events and of human nature than her inventor suspects. At the bequest of the city gargoyles Mattie finds herself thrust into the forefront of huge sweeping events. She’s destined to play a part in plunging the city she loves, already balancing of the brink of war, over the edge.

The world building is what I loved about this book, the class structure, the plots and subplots. There is just so much going on. This is not a popular book by any means, but it has a number of the stylistic decisions that author made that create a unique read. I can’t say I loved the ending; the pacing felt rushed and I wonder if a sequel was originally planned, as as a number of issues are left unresolved. Overall a worthy read.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/what-were-reading-w-is-for-wicked/

What We’re Reading for Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month and the National Women’s History Project decided on the theme: Women of Character, Courage and Commitment. As I ponder the contributions of both noted and everyday women, I can’t help but reflect on the changes I’ve witnessed in just my lifetime. From my grandmothers who worked as seamstresses in fashion houses in NYC, to my mother, a stay-at-home mom to whom college was never an option, even though she rose to be valedictorian of her class. The Women’s Movement has had a huge effect on society and particularly on me. This sometimes caused my mother and I to be at odds, as she felt I was selfish choosing a career over family. Eventually she came to see that it was possible to do both and admitted her regrets over never having been afforded the same opportunities as I.

So this month we share books that reveal the power of women, be it in the kitchen, the bedroom, the boardroom, or the battlefield. Hail to our strength, our sensitivity, passion, and compassion. Right on, sisters!

Write on…

Caryn’s Pick:  STILL LIFE WITH BREAD CRUMBS by Anna Quindlen

SLWBC Cover WebNew York Times bestselling author, Anna Quindlen recently released her newest novel, Still Life with Bread Crumbs. I’ve never read her and picked this up for two reasons: 1) I needed to leave the YA world for a bit and remind myself what writers of grown-up books were doing these days, and 2) the book critic on the Today Show recommended it with exceptional enthusiasm.

It’s the story of sixty-year-old Rebecca, once a renowned photographer, who’s come upon hard times. She leases out her upscale New York apartment and flees the city for a little ramshackle of a cabin in some small town in the middle of no where. There she discovers her true self, along with a tree stand and a roofer named Jim Bates.

Reading the reviews I ascertained that Ms. Quindlen is a star in the world of something call domestic fiction. Not sure domestic fiction tickles my fancy all that much. But it is well written and if you like a story with the message that it’s never too late to embrace life’s second chances, then this is for you. And in the spirit of this month’s theme, her protagonist suffers from many of the plights that keep women from becoming the best version of themselves.

It’s a quiet story, easy, introspective, sometimes redundant when it comes to the ex-husband, and very slow on action. Many called it a superb love story, but honestly, by my definition it was pretty tame, even boring. The Today Show reviewer highlighted how Rebecca remarks after the love scene that sex is like cake, and for the first time in her life, she was the cake.

The writing is poetic at times, which I found enchanting, but I didn’t find that I was emotionally invested in the characters. Although, I’d have to agree with one reviewer who likened Still Life with Bread Crumbs to a cup of hot tea on a cold day. If that’s what you enjoy then do partake. I liked it, but it really wasn’t my cup of tea.

 

Heather’s Pick:  CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein

CNV Cover WebThis book fits the theme “Women of Character, Courage and Commitment” to an absolute tee. It’s about two young women in World War II – one a pilot, the other a spy. Why did not one of my history teachers teach me about how women were involved in the war? Besides mentioning that they worked factory jobs while the men were fighting? I had no idea women flew planes and were spies! Though not a true story, this novel is based on factual history that is deftly explained (but not over-explained) in the book. Eye-opening history lesson aside, this novel is one of the most brilliant I’ve read in years. It has my three favorite things in a story: 1) mystery, 2) oh-my-god-what’s-going-to-happen suspense, and 3) female friendship. That third one is often forgotten in YA in favor of a romance, but in CODE NAME VERITY the most significant and powerful relationship in the book is the tight friendship between two young women. Their commitment to each other and the courage they display throughout this story is astounding. I can’t think of a more fitting book to read for Women’s History Month.

 

Jenn’s Pick:  WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES BY Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

WW Cover WebWomen of Character, Courage and Commitment come into their own in WOMEN WHO RUN WITH THE WOLVES by Clarissa Pinkola Estés. This is a lyrical collection of myths, legends, fairy tales and commentary that celebrate the archetypal Wild Woman, an endangered aspect of ourselves that society has subverted and repressed. The Wild Woman, like the wolf, has been systematically misunderstood and preyed upon, despite her fierce loyalty and devotion to tribe, mate and cubs, her playful and affectionate nature and affinity with the earth. The wolf is metaphorical, (in some instances literal), representing the intuitive woman, filled with energy and wisdom rooted in natural instinct. Estés, a Jungian psychoanalyst, sets out to inspire contemporary women in our search for the authentic self, part of each of us that longs to reconnect with freedom and the wild. THE BONE WOMAN, for example, scavenges for and assembles wolf bones, which she keeps in a cave with the bones of other creatures. When the skeleton is complete, she sings to it until the sound of her voice adds flesh and fur. The wolf begins to run, and in the running, is transformed into a woman. Estés likens this to the work we need to do to recover and integrate all the parts of ourselves that are scattered and sometimes hidden in far corners of unforgiving landscapes. Other stories such as BLUEBEARD, THE UGLY DUCKLING, THE HANDLESS MAIDEN, and lots more, connect to different facets of character and soul: creativity, spirituality, emotion, and sexuality. Estés believes strongly in the power of storytelling, and her observations shed inspirational light on the essence of female experience: our relationships and notions of self. I’m a sucker for myths and fairy tales, but this is not a book to read in one sitting. Its value lies in picking it up from time to time for a spurt of creative energy, maybe a booster shot of intuition or insight. I keep it on my bedside table for those times when I forget how to be fierce.

Robin’s Pick:  MARY REILLY by Valerie Martin

MR cover webAlthough not an overly long book, just 256 pages, this is a slow read, well suited to a long winter night in a comfortable chair. This is the story of Mary, a maid working in the home of Dr. Jekyll. Yes, that Dr. Jekyll. It’s told exclusively with Mary’s journal entries, and features a large amount of detail on her daily workload. Washing floors, beating rugs, and polishing the silver. Mary is a quiet respectable girl of good character, born into a poor family, with an abusive father. Mary has no aspirations of moving up in life, or in finding a husband. She relishes her position in the Master’s house where she feels safe and enjoys a pleasant relationship with the other servants, if no close bonds. The book opens with the Master (Jekyll) showing an interest in Mary’s scars, (her father’s doing) and in her ability to read and write. He’s stunned to find a housemaid of her rare intellect and Mary, who seems a sad character, quickly becomes obsessed with her Master. The situation ignites an adolescent fantasy on Mary’s part, and she cast herself as Jekyll’s protector, especially against the disagreeable nature of his alter ego, his “assistant” Mr. Hyde.

 What the book does well is complement the original story, so unless you’re well versed in that book you may miss the nuances. It also strikes a nice prose balance, we have enough of the archaic language for ambiance, but it’s still easily readable. The setting is evocative of the era, lots of fog shrouded streets, and the desperate discomforts of the poor and the working class. I like that the book never tries to repaint the era in a rose-colored glow. I think if you’re a fan of deep first person internal narratives and of period literature you will enjoy this thought provoking retelling of the Jekyll and Hyde story from a female perspective.  

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/what-were-reading-for-womens-history-month/

What We’re Reading For The Dark Days of Winter

As February ends, the last days of winter smother us. They wear us down, planting within us a keen desire for change, any change, anything to bring light into the darkness of the season. For some of us, snow lingers thickly around our ankles and spring is still an anticipated treat, too far away to cause us to worry about the Valentine’s chocolates we devoured a week ago. For others, sliding into a sundress, or God forbid, a swimsuit looms threateningly. Wherever you are, if the seasonal doldrums have you down, take note, for we are sending you some heartwarming book suggestions to chase away the frostiest of winter blues.

Caryn’s Pick: Bared to You by Sylvia Day

Bared to YoyI can think of nothing better to thwart the chill of the dark days of winter than a hot and steamy romance novel. I confess to being smitten with Fifty Shades of Grey and ignored the usual derogatory commentary: “The writing could be better.” Well, geez, the writing can always be better. This statement always irks me when my friends blurt it out. My inner monologue goes something like this: After you write your own novel then you can comment on the writing! I know, I know, you don’t have to be a chef to recognize good food (really?) and you don’t have to be a writer to appreciate good writing. Well, I’m not entirely convinced.

The tease for this novel goes like this: “Gideon Cross came into my life like lightning in the darkness…” And oh boy, is that the truth. New York Times and #1 International Bestselling Author, Sylvia Day, has crafted a sensual, erotic story of a love affair between billionaire Gideon Cross and the emotionally damaged Eva. Both characters are flawed to the point where they separately despair of ever having a healthy relationship, haunted by their personal demons. But the sexual chemistry at their initial encounter knocks them both off their feet, literally for Eva. It’s enough to make your panties combust. And they barely touch each other! Their sexual chemistry is like the craving for a drug and eventually they succumb to their desires. Although Gideon pursues Eva relentlessly, he insists that it’s just sex he’s interested in and he senses Eva is looking for the same. They agree to keep it casual and maybe they could even be friends, but that’s it. Yeah, well, we all know how that goes.

Struggling to overcome their deep emotional wounds, the relationship soon becomes tense and complicated. They mirror each other’s pain and the torment of their pasts threatens to tear them apart as jealousy, possessiveness and obsession take hold. The sex is explosive and passionate, their relationship stormy, but when they’re happy it’s glorious. In essence, they begin to transform each other.

I highly recommend this novel and if you like it, rejoice! There are two more in the series!

Robin’s Pick: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

steelheartwebI went dystopian for my pick. What better way to chase away the winter blues than to focus on someone in even worst shape. A bright red star named Calamity appears over the Earth, and a small number of humans start changing into Epics. The antagonist Steelheart is an Epic, a human being endowed with supernatural abilities. As his name suggest, Steelheart has the gift of turning anything inanimate into steel. Using his powers, he seizes control of Newcago, and turns not only building, but the ground deep beneath the city into solid steel. Steelheart surrounds himself with other powerful Epics, and they use their powers to terrorize and control the humans. The city residents live in cramped underground chambers, fighting to survive.

David is a Reckoner, part of a small group of human fighters hunting down lesser Epics, in an effort to resist Epic domination. David studies Epics, collecting data on their weakness, and documenting how their powers work, in the hopes of someday defeating them. Many years ago, Steelheart killed David’s father, but not before David learned something important, a secret Steelheart killed thousands to protect. It’s up to David and the Reckoners to use this knowledge to bring down Steelheart, or die trying.

Steelheart did something a book hasn’t done in a long time, surprised me. I find so many books are just rehashes of some other book, but this one actually managed to deliver a last-minute plot twist I didn’t see coming. Although parts of the book moved a bit slow, the overall story had a number of things I appreciated: an unlikely hero, an unusual antagonist, and some interesting world building. I’ll be reading the sequel Firelight when it comes out in the fall.

Heather’s Pick: Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

BookCover-DangerousGirlsThis has been one of the most brutal winters of my adult life. It’s been snowing in Toronto since November and hasn’t stopped. And the cold! A record number of days below -20 degrees Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit). Makes me wish I could afford a frivolous holiday down south. So jealous of all the people lying on a beach somewhere… until I read DANGEROUS GIRLS. If you have beach envy, this book will cure it! It’s the story of a group of teenagers who go to Aruba for Spring Break, and one of them gets murdered and another is accused of the murder. I won’t give anything away (it is a murder mystery, after all), except that Anna, the accused, spends months in jail and suddenly the idea of going on holiday somewhere with a foreign justice system seems very unappealing. I’m just gonna stay here with the snow and the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms, thank you very much.

Jenn’s pick: When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman

when-god-was-a-rabbitI love winter and all its associated accessories: log fires, bed, electric blankets, hot stews and roasts, soups and red wine…see, I have to stop myself. I just think that darkness seldom exists on its own–it would be unbearable if it did. (And okay, I’m spoilt, I live in San Francisco, where snow isn’t exactly a pressing concern.) This book has dark moments, but Sarah Winman’s prose is so gorgeous that you’re drawn close to vivid, eccentric characters and willingly suffer along with them as they endure heartbreaking events. It’s the story of the fierce bond between young Elly, the narrator, and her brother Joe, and her friendship with weird and wonderful Jenny Penny. The relationship with Joe is beautifully rendered–he buys Elly a Belgian hare after she confides in him that the neighbor has abused her, because he feels the pet will be a good friend. Elly calls the rabbit ‘god,’ and yes, he talks to her. The novel unfolds in England in the sixties and seventies and moves to New York, spanning forty years of quirky relationships with oddball characters that just about vibrate on the page. I attributed the depth and richness of the narrative to the author’s voice, which captures the torments of childhood and coming-of-age with searing honesty and whimsy. The secrets and traumas the children share go way beyond traditional coming-of-age stories, and sometimes their tribulations get close to unbearable. Some loose ends and off-the-wall coincidences strain belief, but life’s like that, isn’t it?

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/what-we-are-reading-for-the-dark-days-of-winter/

What We’re Reading This Month: All About Love And Madness

Love is the best reason to live. We love our children, our pets, our partners, and love in its various forms has inspired poets and writers for centuries to do their best work. We hanker after romantic love because there’s nothing quite as exhilarating or fulfilling, so we pursue it, offer and accept it wherever we find it, and hope it will last. It’s exciting and resilient yet mercurial too, and just when we think we have a handle on it, it hides or turns into a shapeshifter.

Most emotions or states of being have a dark side, and love is no exception. Think Wuthering Heights, Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Tristan and Isolde: romantic love didn’t work out so well for them, and we need look no further than Cathy and Heathcliff to recognize love’s terrible twin, madness. Love and madness are an irresistible pair, so we’ve chosen them as this month’s theme, and with Valentine’s Day less than a month away, the timing is just right.

JENN:

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

TheGodOfSmallThingsCoverSet in Kerala in the south of India, a woman in her early thirties returns to the ravaged house where she spent part of her childhood to meet her twin brother, whom she hasn’t seen for over twenty years. At the heart of the story lies the disintegration of a wealthy family, its erosion brought about by tragedy and scandal for which the twins, as children, and their mother, were punished. The narrative moves backwards and forwards in time, capturing the twins’ wide eyed perspective, a view distorted by an innocence the author captures with acute sensitivity. What struck me most was Ms Roy’s dexterity with language and craft–the book begins where it ends, and throughout the reader must put together the puzzle pieces of each wrenching event. Although it won the Booker Prize, reviews were mixed, most either ecstatic or disgruntled. I was deeply moved by the prose and the non-linear path each character takes towards his or her inevitable demise, but what lingered for me was the forbidden love between the twins’ mother, Ammu and the Untouchable Velutha, a member of India’s lowest caste. There is madness in their love, which is doomed from the start: both of them know it, as does the reader.

This is not light reading because it demands emotional and intellectual investment; it’s a novel that belongs in a treasured collection, to be visited time and again just to absorb the majesty of the author’s writing.

CARYN:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone_Girl_(Flynn_novel)

Love and Madness… What a wicked, decadent combo, and one that attracts us like bees to nectar. Who can resist the thought that someone is madly in love with you? That he would kill for you? Do anything to win your love? And yet, the line separating love and madness is razor-sharp and can be dangerously twisted.

Best-selling author Gillian Flynn, in Gone Girl, takes this madness to a whole new level in her newest thriller; recently optioned by Hollywood and starring Ben Affleck as Nick. This dark tale of a marriage gone terribly wrong begins when Nick’s wife, Amy, vanishes from their home and Nick becomes the prime suspect. Of course, the husband always is. The novel has co-protagonists who also serve as the antagonists. This is a rarity in a story and the uniqueness of the writing alone sets it apart as an interesting read. The first part of the narrative alternates between Nick’s real-time accounting of both the backstory of their relationship and current events, and entries from Amy’s diary. It is divided into three books and eventually moves Amy into the present. It’s toxic, chilling and perverse, and takes the reader down some shady alleys with no hope of escape.

I tried not to like this book for a number of reasons. For a thriller, the beginning had very little plot and relied mostly on backstory and inner monologue which I found to be too slow for a crime novel. But the writing is superb, although the vile language can wear on you. Anyone who knows me will say that I’ve got quite the potty mouth myself and I don’t cringe at this type of language, but I felt it unnecessary for the most part, as if it was thrown in just for sensationalism. Sort of like someone throws in a sex scene just… well … because.

The reviews warned me about the horrible ending and many readers vehemently expressed their disappointment. I agree with their sentiments, but Ms. Flynn crafted it well and if nothing else it was different. When I posted my thoughts on the film Blue Jasmine I criticized Woody Allen for crafting a story with unlikeable characters who remained stagnant throughout the story. (Obviously, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences disagrees with me!) The same holds true here. You feel the stirrings of empathy for these characters, but for the most part they are despicable and it’s hard to root for them. Nick even tells the reader at some point: “Now is the part where I have to tell you … and you stop liking me.” (I left out the spoiler part.)

I do recommend this book, but it’s not for the feint of heart. It’s a dark, depressing story, which might be just the thing on a cold, dank, winter day. Just stay away from the wine bottle. You might be temped to over-indulge to brighten your mood. On the other hand, your own relationships may suddenly look a lot better!

HEATHER:

The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

Cover-Madman's DaughterI decided that THE MADMAN’S DAUGHTER was the perfect book to read for this month’s theme. With a plot that features a daughter searching for her presumably mad scientist father and such an evocative tagline on the cover – “In the darkest places, even love is deadly” – how could it not be? I expected a deep, torturous exploration of Juliet (the daughter) who’s torn between loving her dad because he’s family and fearing him because he’s insane. Instead, there’s not much love lost, and Juliet pretty much always thinks he’s mad, finding him just confirms that. And though she worries about being crazy like dad, she never has anything to worry about because she doesn’t do anything crazy. Like that  girl who complains about being ugly even though she’s beautiful. You just want to tell her to stuff it.

So, needless to say, I was disappointed. Amidst the 420 pages of this book, there is a plot that could be decent if it wasn’t buried under Juliet’s inner monologue – so much telling! Even when something is shown, Juliet still tells it to the reader, like, “Hey, did you get that? That’s what happened. And if you didn’t understand that I felt angry about it when I hit the table angrily, I’m going to tell you that I’m angry too.” Argh.

I wanted to love this book. Instead it drove me mad.

ROBIN:

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

darkunwindingI’d been wanting to read this book for some time and expected to find a steampunk story under the cover, perhaps the cogs on the book gave me that idea. Instead I found a gothic tale. The story starts as many other gothic books before it, with a young penniless orphan girl living off the mercy of her relations. Katharine Tulman has never met her late father’s eldest brother, nor journeyed to the moors to visit the ancestral home. But all that changes when her Aunt Alice, (wife of her father’s other brother) charges her with a loathsome task. She must visit her Uncle Tully and spend enough time in his company, to give testimony to his growing insanity. A quick commitment to an asylum is the only way Aunt Alice and her foul, dimwitted son Robert, can quickly inherit the estate, and hold their creditors at bay.

When Katharine arrives, she finds not only an uncle teetering on the brink of madness, but oddly a brilliant inventor of clockwork toys as well. He’s also surrounded by hundreds of adoring and loyal employees who know why Katharine is there and will do anything to stop her. They include a handsome servant named Lane, who Katharine feels drawn too, and Ben a young scholar studying her uncle’s inventions. Whereas Lane stirs her passion, Ben gives Katharine hope of escaping her aunt through a good marriage. When dark dreams invade Katharine’s sleep, she wakes to find herself covered in self-inflicted bite marks and suspects she is slipping into madness just like her uncle.

This book has all the elements to make it a ripping good story, dark setting, interesting characters, and the bones of a good plot, but they just took too long to come together for me. I found the first 200 pages slow. The climax wrapped up very quickly with an expected resolution, and was followed by a trailing ending to firm up the need for a sequel. I think if you love gothic stories you might like this book, but it’s not for people who want a book they just can’t put down.

 

 

 

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/book-reviews/what-were-reading-this-month-all-about-love-and-madness/

Older posts «