Saturday, October 14, 2017

Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan

Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan


                One thing I love about people knowing I am an avid reader is that they always think of me when they are reading and they suggest books to me. One of my coworkers had mentioned this book to me stating “It’s about this guy who was helping Jews escape from Italy during World War II and he ends up joining the German army, becoming a driver for this General and then becoming an Ally spy.” I was sold. She brought me her copy of the book before she even had a chance to read the whole thing. I began reading the book and was immediately captivated by the story of a man I had never heard of before. Pino Lella was only seventeen years old when he began helping Jews escape into Switzerland. It was days before he turned eighteen that he joined the German army, at the urging of his parents who feared for his safety. After being injured, he had a chance encounter with General Leyers and became his driver. He then began relaying information to his uncle who was an active part of the resistance. His story isn’t one that many knew, but the information he provided was vital to the movement of the Allies.
                This isn’t a biography of Lella. Sullivan made multiple trips to visit and interview Lella, researched extensively about the sequence of events that happened during this story from 1943-1945, but he takes artistic license with this story. It is a historical fiction novel about Lella’s life and is extremely engrossing. It’s easy to get a sense of the life Lella lived. The bravery he had to have in order to risk his young life for a cause he adamantly believed in is inspiring. The ridicule he experienced while wearing a swastika armband even though he was working as a spy relaying information to the allies, was almost too much for him to endure. Many people, including his own brother, considered him a traitor. But for his brothers and his family’s safety he refused to reveal the truth, taking the judgement and the criticism, knowing he was fighting on the right side of history. The horrors he saw and endured for months on end would haunt him for the rest of his life.
               Sullivan’s telling of this story was incredible. He brought this history to life and honored Lella with his depiction. Every character in this story felt real and every atrocity was horrifying. We live in a world where these things happened and confronting that history is the only way to honestly remember those who fought and put their lives at risk. Lella’s story needed to be shared. The story of the war in Italy isn’t one that I’m familiar with so learning of the actions that took place during that time was enlightening and disturbing. I gave this novel 5 out of 5 stars. Lella’s legacy is honored and recognized within these pages. 

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Revisited)

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
(Revisited)


                This is my second reading of The Handmaid's Tale and it's been almost four years since the first time around. I felt a need to return to this book and this story. Maybe because of the current politics. Maybe because I needed to realize what real-life horror could be. Maybe the furor around the TV adaptation influenced me. I'm not sure exactly why but I needed to reread this book. And so I did. This story was just as powerful and unsettling the second time around.
                This is the story of Offred. But it isn't just her story. It's the story of all the women in the Republic of Gilead who have no rights, no jobs, no money and a life completely determined by the men around them. Offred is a Handmaid. She has been sent to the Commander with only one purpose: to bear a child. In the time before she was married, had a child, had a job and her own bank account. But all of these things have been taken from her. All of the women must now serve a purpose to men and to society. There are the Wives who wear Blue, The Marthas who wear green and do service work around the house and the Aunts who train the Handmaids. Women are not allowed to read. The stores that women frequent have pictures so as not to tempt the women to read. This is the world Offred knows now. She remembers the time before but is helpless to make any change or to escape. Offred, the Commander, his wife and the Republic of Gilead with its wall where bodies hang and secret rebel organization exist is the shadows.
Spoilers are coming.
                This is the kind of story that can send chills up and down your spine. Because it is both a world you fear and a world that you can easily envision. Offred could be anyone. Her day to day life before could be reminiscent of anyone's life. And yet here she is now with nothing. Her body used as a ritual to further the means of those who hold her captive. This society is representative of male dominance and women subservience in every since of the world. It has a very biblical undertone that is used as means of control. There is a sense of defiance but the hope in it is fleeting. There is no proof of success, only its undercurrent. And here we have a story of a world that has passed and what has come after. A world where your identity is stripped and you can't even speak your real name.
                If you ever want to know what I am afraid of, read this book. This type of story is exactly what terrifies me. Women unable to control their own destiny. I imagine that this kind of world could indeed happen and in many ways it would feel like Atwood was simply seeing into the future. I credit her world building. She was able to define a world all too black and white, defined by its restrictions. By making the readers well aware of the few things women were allowed to do she made it all to clear all of things women were not allowed. Offred was a character whose mind drifted between then and now, as if trying to hold on to the world she couldn't leave behind. Images of her daughter haunted her while fear for husband permeated her thoughts. Nothing was settled in her mind and the drifting back in forth, the stark realization of the now, was terrfying.
               Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale leaves you with a feeling of discontent. We are unsure of Offred's fate, unsure of what happened in the Republic of Gilead, left to ponder its very existence. I love Atwood's writing in this. It is both descriptive and disconcerting. I kept hoping for a moment of relief and was left wanting. I see those around me who would be complicit to these changes, who would let the world fall around them if it wouldn't affect them directly. And I see those around me who would fight and rage against this horrifying society. This identifying and categorizing of people around me makes it feel real. I give this 5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli

Harry, A History by Melissa Anelli


                It wasn’t until fairly recently that I noticed Harry, A History and I wasn’t at all interested. To be completely honest with you I just wasn’t sold on the idea of reading someone else’s experience as a Harry Potter fan. I had my own history with the books, one that I cherish and speak about to people shocked that a thirty year old woman still rereads the series every year. I just didn’t have the patience to indulge and I have so many books I want to read. Then one weekend I was visiting my in-laws and saw a copy of the book. My mother in law, who is also a huge Harry Potter fan, had ordered the copy months ago and had yet to read it. Sitting idly on the couch, I began reading the forward by J.K. Rowling. I must admit that my interest was piqued after seeing both her name and the fact that the author of this book was the webmistress of The Leaky Cauldron, a site I had frequented often for Potter news. Before I knew it I was chapter in and hooked. Just like that I had fallen into the history of the Potter Fandom.
                Now would be the appropriate to dive into my history with Harry Potter. I picked up the first book in the fall of 1998 at 12. I almost book snobbed it, stating pretty proudly that I didn’t read fantasy when a friend suggested I read it. My obsession with the series began right when the books were being published in the U.S. so I got a first-hand view of the tide as the Harry Potter wave began to rise. I got my hands on a British edition of the second book at a local book store, before the book was released in the U.S. and then promptly bought a U.S. copy as soon as it was released. I reread the books constantly, something I had never done before. I loved the series and was a dedicated fan. The waiting between books sucked, but I returned to the books often. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to count the amount of times I’ve read these books but I still do even to this day.
                Melissa Anelli has a different story. She came across the books while in college in 2000, after a few of the books had already been released and the fandom was increasing exponentially. Her journalism career took her down a different path. She would begin perusing fanfiction sites, indulging in these stories, while also researching articles and sending them to The Leaky Cauldron. Overtime she would become a leading force in providing news regarding the series. She began writing this book moments before the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, came out. It was in honor of the fandom that she wrote the book and that’s the reason why I loved the experience of reading Harry, A History. It is funny, intriguing and informative. I was never a part of the some of the fan experiences that she describes and it was interesting to learn about all of the events taking place, the rivalries, the discussions, the extensive fanfiction, the conventions. But what I loved most was reading about another fan falling head over heels in love with this series. Reading about someone else and the connection they share with a book series that I am so dedicated to and love brought back all of the memories I associated with Harry Potter. This is a book for Harry Potter fans. People who loved these books and were both sad and happy at the fact that it had to end. The story isn’t going anywhere. I have multiple copies of the series and plan to reread them every January for the foreseeable future. Anelli’s journey was different but we are connected through this story of young boy wizard who continued to fight until the battle was won. I give this 5 out of 5 stars.   

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee



                It is extremely difficult to tell a multigenerational story that has a well-crafted plot, great world building, and amazing character development. Lee managed to not only master all those things but also include historical details and racial nuances that enhanced the story and described a culture. Pachinko begins in Korea in the early 1900s, the story of man crippled since birth, who marries a poor young girl whose father had too many daughters and few prospects. It then follows the growth of their family, his death and his daughter’s unexpected pregnancy. All around them the world is changing. Korea is now controlled by Japan, people are suffering because of their culture and uncertainty about the future looms. We follow this family through four generations. As the years pass, their lives change in unbelievable ways as wars come and go, their country is divided and their family survives.
                I don’t want to be purposefully vague but I also don’t want to give anything away. This story was incredibly well done. The manner in which Lee crafted and maintained this story lent itself beautifully to this plot. She didn’t go into painstaking detail about each year of their lives, but allowed time to pass naturally and events to unfold organically. Reflecting on the time passed and the ways in which it changed the characters was extremely effective. The beginning of the story provided absolutely no clues to what would happen as time changed. Social commentary throughout clued readers into the historical events happening around the characters.
                One of the things that I really enjoyed about this novel was the look at Korean culture and the racial divide between Koreans and Japanese. I’m not well versed on the struggles that occurred in Korean history. Reading about the bigotry and cultural differences that were so pervasive was interesting and I thought well handled. It was vital to making this novel as authentic as possible to explore how these two cultures interacted.
                I’m giving this novel 5 out of 5 stars. I was impressed by the way Lee tackled this multi-generational epic about a Korean family. It isn’t a novel you can casually read because it handles so many details and those details are what weave the beautiful fabric that is this novel. Very well done. I was invested in the characters from the beginning and that dedication to them never wavered. I felt like I was living through turbulent times, rejoicing through their triumphs and despondent through their pain. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty



                I usually read books before I watch any kind of on screen adaptation, as a rule, because I know that the book will be better than the adaptation. I broke that rule for Big Little Lies and dived head first into the HBO adaptation simply based on the casting. It took one episode for me to realize that I needed to read the book and immediately requested it from the library and became #141 in line for the next book. Needless to say I got my copy right after the season ended. I loved every episode and was very interested to see what had been changed in this adaption. Spoiler Alert: a lot had been changed but both were really enjoyable.
                Big Little Lies is the story of three very different women and their families, living in Australia. An incident occurs regarding one of their sons, tension occurs and the worst of the community rears its ugly head and battle lines are drawn. In the midst of these battle lines are all of the imperfections that only these women recognize in their own families because everyone has secrets. An abusive husband, a rape, rage against an ex-husband. It all seems so simple but from the onset we know that someone is dead and it isn’t until the end that we realize how so many of the lies lead to that death.

                I’m not sure how quickly I would have realized who was dead if I had read the book first. I was able to make all kinds of assumptions while watching the show, many of which I assumed I would have made if I read the book first, but alas I will never know. Moriarity crafted this story well and the lives of all of these women were captivating and interesting. I had heard mixed reviews about the book, which I’m glad I decided to ignore. The details provided in the book added so much depth to the story that fortunately the actors were able to add to the show. I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Patternmaster by Octavia E. Butler

Patternmaster by Octavia E. Butler



                And so it all ends. And it was so damn good! Okay, let me slow down and start with the beginning of this book. The Clay’s Ark disease is running rampant. The only people who exist now are those with the disease, those who hold the pattern and the mutes being controlled. The Clayarks and Patternist are basically at war. Teray is a son of the Patternmaster, Rayal, who is dying from the Clay’s Ark disease. Coransee is also a son of Rayal and now sees Teray as his biggest threat to obtaining the pattern once Rayal finally succumbs to the disease.
                There you have it. That is the backdrop for the final book in this series. I’m not going to try and go into the details of this book because they are too vast and I won’t be able to put into words everything going on, within the limits I want this post to be. What I will say is that this was a satisfying finale. This story spreads over hundreds of years. Many of the characters within the story are never intertwined but they are vaguely mentioned and if you are familiar with these books, then their presence is obvious. I kept wondering throughout if any of the previous characters would intertwine more explicitly and honestly I like that she didn’t. Each of these novels could easily stand on their own. Interestingly enough that’s how this series began! Patternmaster was the first book released in this series but is the last in the series chronologically. The story then moved to Mind of My Mind (chronologically the second book), then Survivor (chronologically fourth but a book she pulled from being published again because she hated it. Of course I’m curious but it’s almost impossible to get my hands on!) Fourth to be released was Wild Seed (chronologically first) and the last book to be released was Clay’s Ark (chronologically third).
                I’m glad that my first experience reading this series was in the chronological order. I absolutely loved the way these characters developed and how the story was told. The world building blended and expanded beautifully with each book. I gained more understanding of the how the pattern was formed and maintained through each book. The introduction of the Clay’s Ark disease was a completely unexpected twist that piqued my interest instantly and made me crave to know the conclusion of the series. I will eventually read the series in the order it was published because I’m curious to see what that reading experience would be like.

                This is a series I would highly recommend. The topics and themes explored were extraordinary. The concepts of slavery, control, freedom and maintaining humanity were prevalent throughout the series, and the supernatural, magical elements added so much depth to the story that it was easy to fall into the story. I loved each of these book. I’m just upset it took me this long to read them. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler

Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler


                Blake thought he would be safe with his daughters in their armored truck, even as they traveled out of their safe enclave. But when a man ripped open his locked door and threatened to kill his family everything changed. Blake knew these people were different. They were reading his body language, like they were reading his mind. They knew Keira was sick even if the strangers couldn’t deduce what was wrong. The strangers forced them to go to the ranch, kidnapping Rane, Blake’s other daughter and threatening them all if they didn’t follow. Eli, the leader of the ranch, made it clear that they couldn’t leave. That they would be infected like him, and everyone else at the ranch. The extraterrestrial organisms inhabiting Eli’s body would infect him too. Shockingly, the only way to keep any one at the ranch, and the world safe, would be for Blake and his family to stay. By then they were already infected.
                I have absolutely no idea how this novel fits into the Patternist series because none of the other characters of the previous books were even mentioned, but it is obvious that this novel is part of the Patternist universe, so beyond anything else, I am extremely curious. With that being said, this book could stand on its own. Changing in narrative from the past, with Eli’s infection and him coming upon this inhabited ranch, back to the present with Blake’s family kidnapped and brought to the ranch, Butler weaves a tale of the struggle to maintain humanity, while your body is losing its humanity. Every single character is struggling with their circumstances, brought on by a mission off the planet and an infection that took the lives of everyone but Eli. The possibilities of what could happen in this well-crafted, and terrifyingly realistic world are disturbing to say the least. And I could not put this novel down.

                I mean, damn. I’m continually shocked by how amazing Octavia E. Butler was a writer. This story, like every single one of hers that I have read so far, has incredible character development and world building. Each plot has been mind-blowing in its uniqueness and detail. This is another book that I could easily recommend. I give this 5 out of 5 stars.