Friday, October 25, 2013

Man On Mars

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Stranger in a Strange Land chronicles the life of the man from Mars, Valentine Michael Smith, after being brought back to his home planet, Earth. Born to scientists who died during an expedition to Mars, Mike, a human, was raised by martians.  He understands their language, mannerisms , way of life and community. He was discovered when a second expedition was sent to the planet over two decades after his birth. The discovery of Mike sparked the curiousity of every human on earth and he was brought back to his home planet. Once there Mike had to adjust not only physically but mentally to this new planet. He had to adapt to the language, the movement, the lifestyle and the presence of other humans, not to mention the fact that he had never seen a woman until arriving to earth. Mike tries to adapt as best as he can to his new surroundings while also introducing his way of life and understanding to others.
                Interesting is an understatement when describing this novel. This was a complex roller coaster of understanding while at the same time extremely enjoyable. Mike, as he is called, doesn’t understand the simplicity of being human compared to the life that he lived with the Martians. The differences are very complex but understandable at the same time. Martians don’t believe in property, because everything belongs to everybody. They take part in cannibalism when one of their brothers "discorporates" or passes away.  They are in complete control of their body and mind.  It’s almost as if they operate on a different plane of understanding. Now Mike comes from this environment of selflessness to earth and he struggles to understand or “grok” what is going on around him. This book is all about understanding humans: how and why they interact the way they do, the complexity of having both male and female, the competitiveness between adults (instead of nymphs or children on Mars), the idea of possessions and money, religion and the idea of God and of course politics.
               I am not a huge fan of science fiction but Heinlein is considered one of the best for a reason. His imagination and creativity when taking an outside look at our culture is nothing short of amazing. This book was written in 1961 and the observations he makes then are just as accurate now. I found a lot of the observations he made extremely interesting and insightful. Sometimes we need to step outside of ourselves and take a look at the lives we lead and why. And it certainly helps to have an outsiders perspective as well.

Friday, October 18, 2013

All That Glitters

Silver Girl by Elin Hilderbrand

Meredith Delinn is the most hated woman on earth, after her husband, Freddy, has stolen billions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme through his business. Now she is under investigation, as well as her oldest son, in the conspiracy that she thought was her life. She has been black balled and shunned and has nowhere to turn. Desperate and alone Meredith reaches out to Connie, her best friend who she hasn't talked to in three years. Connie has been alone since the death of her husband two and half years earlier. Connie is well aware of the situation surrounding Meredith and Freddy which has been all over the news for months. Freddy’s business was partly responsible for the parting of ways between Meredith and Connie and they both hope that enough time has passed and the friendship can mend. Connie takes Meredith out of New York to Nantucket where Connie stays during the summer. Here Meredith can hide, or so she thinks. But when you are the most hated woman on earth, there is nowhere to hide…
                This book was an observation of friendship and the consequences of betrayal.  Meredith and Connie’s relationship had been damaged for a number of reasons, but when Meredith was in need her best friend was there. Connie had her own reasons though; she was tired of being alone. They needed each other in different ways to heal.  Connie took in Meredith knowing the risks with her being under investigation and they dealt with those issues as they announced themselves. They learn together that there is still room to love, and to heal and to grow.
              I liked this book. It was an easy read that would have been great for the summer, but I enjoyed curling up on the couch with this book in my lap. Hilderbrand keeps her writing simple and honest. I was intrigued but not overly invested in the story. The interactions all felt real and unforced. I can see myself reading other books by her in the future   to pass the time.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Stories From The Past

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is an author who can write anything and I’ll read it. I’ll see that she has new novel released and without any hesitation the book will be purchased.  With that being said I didn’t know what I was getting into when I began this novel. I didn’t expect to get thrown into the horror that is the Holocaust. I didn’t expect to start crying on the couch when the SS officer recounted shooting hundreds of people simply because they were Jewish. I didn’t expect to put the book down because I couldn’t handle the Holocaust survivor, tell of the horror she lived through. I was completely unprepared and it left me raw. So let me prepare you. This is not a story to be taken lightly. It is a credit to the amount of research she put into this story and her talent as a writer that I was able to show such emotion when reading this book. But this is a fictional account of real events. What’s in the pages I just read wont compare to what people actually survived and that more than anything is what broke me while reading this book.

Now on to the story…
Josef Weber has asked Sage to help him die. He has tried to kill himself before and failed. He claims it will be a mercy to him but first she must forgive him. He was SS: a Nazi officer, SS-Totenkopfverbande, Death’s head unit. Even though she is a self- proclaimed atheist, she comes from a Jewish family and he hopes her forgiveness will be enough. What he doesn’t know is that her grandmother, Minka, is a survivor and still alive. Now it’s Sage’s turn to listen, to both of their stories. With the help of Leo Stein, an attorney from the Department of Justice who helps prosecute Nazis because of their war crimes, she searches for the answer within both of their truths. How can a well liked and prominent man in the community, once have been a part of the massacre that took place over half a century ago? How can a woman raise her family and love her grandchildren but never talk about her past? How does the monster in a man take over and who can be blamed when it does?
                Sage was put in an extremely difficult position.  After Josef reveals the truth to Sage she has to go back and listen to him recount the things he had done. Not only because she was having a hard time believing him but because she now had to collect evidence for the case she was building against him. Her grandmother had never spoke to any of her grandkids about her past and it was a truth she didn’t want to face. She revealed all to Sage. She spoke of the death she encountered, the loss she felt, the senselessness of it all and how hard it was to live after she survived.
                I found this novel to be disturbing in its honesty. Jodi is a beautiful writer and she chose such a powerful and emotional subject for this book. I loved that the main struggle of this book became trying to understand a monster. You can’t understand evil and Sage continuously struggles with what’s been presented. Here is a man, Josef,  who has committed horrible murders and believed what he was doing at the time was right. Then he hides for a half century and now comes to her asking for help. Sage has no reason to forgive him, especially not when her grandmother is living proof of the hell he condoned. This was a beautifully written novel meant to pull at your heart strings and put you in an unimaginable situation. Picoult is very adept at making you put yourself in a characters position and struggling with that character’s problem as well as doing some soul searching yourself.

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Loved Author, A New Name

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

So what do you when you are the world renowned author of the Harry Potter Series and everyone wants you to keep writing books like Harry Potter? You create a penname and release your newest novel under that name, which should then give you a shot at having a career outside of Harry Potter. The cover, of course, was blown and everyone knew immediately after the release of The Cuckoo’s Calling that it was written by JK Rowling, and not the debut author, Robert Galbraith. Even though the attempt at obscurity failed the book was a success. Much like her other novel, The Casual Vacancy, JK Rowling stepped out of the realm of magic and into the real world, one of celebrity obsession, drugs, race relations, and murder.

                A young model fell to her death in an apparent suicide and her troubled brother has a hired a wounded veteran, now a private detective, to solve what he believes is an actual murder. Our private eye, Cormoran Strike, is in debt and even though he thinks it may be a waste of time, desperate for money, he takes the case. With the assistance of his newly hired secretary Robin, he delves into the life of Lula Landry, the very successful model who had issues not only with drug use in her past but also with her mental health. Adopted as a young child by a white family, Lula who is biracial, became obsessed with her biological family and briefly before her death had an uncovered her biological mother and was searching for the father she had never met. Strike discovers the paranoia Lula felt due to the media attention she garnered and how she began to question the people who had been closest to her.  But who could’ve or would’ve murdered the young model. The drug addict boyfriend who she was seen arguing with the night of her death? A jealous friend who may have been leaking information to the press? Or a long lost family member?

                I thoroughly enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling. JK Rowling used the idea of a deceased model to touch on a lot of issues we see in today’s society: the obsession that’s been created over the young and beautiful in the entertainment industry, mental health and how that can contribute to drug addiction, what makes a family bond and what can cause those bonds to form and break.  Strike is the vessel through which we look at this world. Not blinded by the lights he sees in Lula’s world of “glamour” we get a clear picture of the players in this story. This didn’t lack in suspense at all and I found the ending to be exactly what I needed and didn’t know I wanted. I would suggest this novel to any fans of JK Rowling who have been eager since The Casual Vacancy for another novel. JK Rowling’s talent for weaving an interesting and telling story about our society as always is evident.