Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Cracks in the Kingdom (The Colours of Madeleine, #2)The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In order to properly review this book, I think I would have needed a better understanding of quantum physics. Since I don't have that, my Plan B is that I write this review with a British accent.

Please proceed with a British accent in your head.

The story continues for Madeleine as she continues corresponding with Elliott from Cambridge to the Kingdom of Cello via a parking meter in her world and a sculpture in the schoolyard in his. Elliott is under great pressure to find a way through the crack into the world by the Princess who can not continue her cover that the other royals are missing for much longer. It is the belief that her two brothers, one sister, and both parents were abducted by Hostiles and dropped into the World. She has formed a small alliance of youth who are sworn to secrecy but have access to or skills that she believes will bring her family home.

Meanwhile, Elliot's father is still missing and he believes he was onto possibly connecting the two worlds. Both Elliott and Madeleine continent with half hearted attempts at linking or slipping through but both have a lot going on. Madeleine is trying to figure out how she fits in this new world of Cambridge and her mom rather than the jet set life she used to have. She soon discovers this is not a unique situation, fitting in, and finds comfort in her friendships.

The book ends in an interesting manner, the culmination of hard work and building of stories. Definitely reading the next one.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Nephew and the Epiphany

My sister-in-law gave birth to her second son two weeks ago. My 14 year old son and 16 year old daughter drove to the hospital to see him. Leila had just sent him back to the nursery and I'm so bossy I told her to get him back so I can bother him. She did. He was brought in with his eyes wide open and alert.

I immediately fell in love with him.
Not to boast or anything (I'm totally boasting), I had two babies that came out looking like a cookie cutter version of this one. Minus the Republic of Georgia pigmentation. That Taylor DNA is very strong.

Leila was slightly high on Percocet and was absolutely hilarious. She informed us that little Niko had been sleeping all day because he'd been circumcised. Jacob looked up from holding him and asked, "What is 'circumcised'?" I suddenly felt like a failure of a mother. Leila laughingly informed him that it means that he'd had his Brit Malah. Jacob looked even more confused so I clarified it for him by calling him "Yaakov" and asking him if knew he used to have more skin on his. . . He somehow intuited I was going to say something offensive and placed his hands firmly on his ears while singing loudly, "La! La! La! La!"

None of us are Jewish but Leila is from the country of Georgia where she was a practicing member of a Christian Orthodox congregation. They stand for three hours or more for their services which is why she boasts about her freakishly strong legs. For the record, Leila has only recently started shopping in the junior department in stores. She graduated from the children's department. I kid not. 

Leila and I reminisced on Niko's brother's baptism which I had no forewarning of the ritual. I watched, fascinated, while Father Justin chanted, lit incense, had the godparents spit over the banister to ward off evil, and reminded Leila how Luka cried and cried throughout the ceremony. Right until he fell asleep in his godmother's arms. Which was just about the time he was undressed, the baptistry was uncovered, and Luka was baptised by immersion. I was not expecting him to be immersed three times. Luka was not expecting it, either. He was just about the cutest, angriest 6 week old I'd ever seen. I really, really, really hope we are invited again to the baptism. There is nothing cuter than a naked, indignant baby with fuzzy hair.

On the way out to the car and on the elevator, I explained to Jacob what circumcision involves. He turned green at the gills and was every bit as indignant as his cousin had been in the church. I wished I had a a camera to record his expression and the way he stomped out of the elevator exclaiming, "I thought I was BORN this way!"

Nice outburst. I wonder what the people in the lobby thought as I gave an apologetic grin and wave and ran out the door.

Another glaring example of how I have ruined my son's childhood.

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout

A House in the SkyA House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although not one for reading memoirs as a general rule, this one piqued my interest.

Amanda Lindhout was a young, Canadian woman who reached toward world travel as a means to feel autonomy and freedom from a child hood that was violent and abusive. Amanda briefly touches on her childhood, outlining the basic premises yet, I believe, leaving a lot unstated. This was a good literary call as she continues down her path. Without a clear end goal, she gravitates toward waitressing in high end restaurants where she discovers great tips and a world of travel. She works and saves money, quits and travels for a few months until she runs out of money, returns and repeats.

As a young woman, I did a much smaller version of this lifestyle. I went to college, then graduate school then rewarded myself with a summer abroad with a friend. In retrospect, I realize it was a way to distinguish myself as an individual from my parents. It was also a way to prove to myself that I could navigate the world like a grown up. If I could do this, certainly I would be a successful grown up. At least that is why I subconsciously did it. Yet the differences are stark between Amanda and myself. First of all, I needed to differentiate myself from my parents but only as a stage of growth. I had a good home, a solid education, and a career to return home and begin. My continent of choice was Europe where the culture differed from my own but not so dramatically that it would be a difficult adjustment.

Amanda makes no excuses for her choices. She began with relatively safer countries than Somalia yet drastically different from European countries. She was living on her own, had only loose ties to her family, and no career in mind. Somewhat untethered, she edged closer and closer to danger. In her own admission, she was somewhat taunting those who did not keep her safe when they should have. When her mother articulated concerns about visiting countries at war, Amanda's internal dialogue included a retort at how her mother did not protect her when she was small. Unstated was that Amanda would prove that she can take care of herself, no thank you, very much. This portion of the book is not told in a blaming manner but more of a background to describe where she was in her life and what drove her to make these decisions. In fact, I found her honesty and reflection insightful and very well articulated. She even admits that when she invited Nigel to join her in Somalia, she did so as a taunt; a currency she could use to measure his lack of commitment. Except he decided to join her.

The months spent in captivity are painful to read. She is being held hostage by a group of extremist Muslims who admit it is really about money. They adhere carefully to the teachings of Islam - the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. What this means is horrific hypocrisy and abuse. The experiences are carefully edited down to knowing only what the reader needs to know. It is not necessary to include robust descriptions of the horrors she endured yet enough is said to squirm. No matter what these men do to her, they feel blameless. It is Allah's will and it was foreordained. Plus, she is to blame. Being a woman in these extremist groups and countries has absolutely no upside.

Amanda not only takes the reader through experiences, she takes the reader through many of her eloquently written thought processes. She hangs on to hope with a doggedness and believes things will eventually get better. She reaches a depth of hopelessness that transcends anything else, after much solitude, self blame, prayers, beatings, rapes, even out of body experiences that defy explanation. She doesn't try to explain them but allows the reader to make their own conclusion.

Her writing style is both personal yet objective. I've read many memoirs where the author uses the book to work through the issues and it reads more like an adolescent diary than a professionally published book. There is a place for that activity and those interpretations and perseveration belong with a therapist in a therapy session. This book is the recounting of the painful, harrowing experiences by a woman who was held hostage, abused beyond comprehension, physically released, and who worked very, very hard to free herself psychologically and emotionally. She spends a sparse paragraph or two admitting to the psychological, emotional, and spiritual work she has done. My guess is that it is very sacred and personal to her and she doesn't want that portion of her life examined by critics, a journey that she has taken alone, meant only for her own healing.

I highly recommend the book if only to understand the larger issues at hand. Hostage for Ransom is not an isolated event. The Islamic woman is powerless. Two different issues yet they connect in Amanda's world.


The Collector of Dying Breaths: A Novel of Suspense by M.J. Rose

The Collector of Dying Breaths: A Novel of Suspense (Reincarnationist, #6)The Collector of Dying Breaths: A Novel of Suspense by M.J. Rose
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

There is nothing inherently wrong with this book, I just didn't find enough interest in it to enjoy it. It lacked the suspense and a solid story that I like and left some holes that bothered me. Apparently there is an earlier story with some of the cast of characters that the story refers to. It's not a big deal but it rarely had significant bearing on the current story.

I found the characters to be shallow, under developed or just weird. Although the science and whatnot of 16th century alchemy and chemistry is well described, as well architecture and surroundings, the general story line tended toward a weak excuse to write a weird romance novel. For instance, based on one meeting with a woman who transforms his perfumes with her own body chemistry into a blooming garden, Rene seduces her immediately and falls hopelessly and passionately in love. Declared devotion forever based on a few shared minutes. Hot sex scene ensues then they don't see each other for many weeks.

It's fiction yet based on historical period of Catherine Medici. If you like romance novels of buttons popping and bodice tearing with detailed sex scenes, here it is. For me, not so much.


The Forever Song by Julie Kagawa

The Forever Song (Blood of Eden, #3)The Forever Song by Julie Kagawa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was an expected ending, in most regards, to a post apolyptical trilogy. In case you missed the storyline, Allison is a street rat in a city run by vampires. Donate blood, you get to stay, eat a little, and have some protection. Don't donate and you get to die. Leave the city and you are hunted by "Rabids," a mutation of vampires. So Allison leaves to find food, a Rabid gets her. Before she can die, a vampire named Kanin asks if she wants to die or become a vampire. She becomes a vampire. Janin teaches her all he can to be a conscienable vamp. Don't attack just any human, etc., etc. Then he disappears.

Lonely, Allie attaches herself to a group of humans trying to reach Eden, a settlement free of all anomalies. She gets hungry, hides her nature fir while, then falls in love with a human.

Meanwhile, Kanin has been kidnapped by a psychotic vamp named Saren. Allie feels a blood tie and needs to save him. She convinces Jackal, her blood brother to help. Saren does not go quietly or alone. Additionally, he decides to wipe out the earth with a new Red Lung Disease that kills all, human, vamp, and Rabid and evilly goes in search of the virus. This time Allie, Kanin and Jackal follow in his torturous, bloody, gory, calculayed wake to stop him. The twist you expect at the end of Book 2 happens, lots of blood, gore, and gross out scenes occur before the end of the book. I didn't love it I'll admit, but I appreciated Jackal's personality and humor. He exists to irritate Allie. He is crass, unconscienable (at least that's what he wants others to believe) and the best character in the book. Besides him, the characters lacked character.

Since I started the series, I'm glad I finished it.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Testimony: The Legacy of Schindler's List and the Shoah Foundation-20th Anniversary Commemorative Edition by Steven Spielberg

Testimony: The Legacy of Schindler's List and the Shoah Foundation-20th Anniversary Commemorative EditionTestimony: The Legacy of Schindler's List and the Shoah Foundation-20th Anniversary Commemorative Edition by Steven Spielberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How do you write a review on a documentary of a movie that looked like a documentary? Somehow, I will try.

The first half of the book had me absolutely riveted and engrossed. How Steven Spielberg came to make Schindler's List and how he made the decisions he did. First of all, it was on his mind for years after he read Thomas Keneally's book. How do portray a hero that is not made out of hero material? If you've seen the movie, you know that Oskar Schindler was an opportunist. If you haven't seen the movie, key scenes are described so you are not lost, by any means. They are still powerful.

Oskar Schindler saw an opportunity to become very, very rich. He was a womanizer and man with great social skills. He knew how to work people to fulfill his own needs. Thus, he opened a factory near a concentration camp where a psychopath, Amon Goeth, was commandant. He used Jewish slave labor to become very, very rich.

Yet Schindler had a strong conscience. He treated his workers well. They were better fed and living in better conditions than the regular Jewish prisoners. At least when they were not living in the concentration camp under the commandant. Schindler takes a horseback ride on a beautiful day in Poland where he witnesses a pogrom in Krakow. It is here that the scene of the red coat plays out. This is a pivotal scene for Schindler because he suddenly has the epiphany of the cruelties of the war. He takes more Jewish workers, sets up his own camp and treats them without cruelty, giving them as much food and shelter as he can.

Schindler's List comes into the story when his factory is closed down and he Amon to allow him to keep his workers. Amon allows him to buy workers but he must also prove that the workers are specialized and he can't do without them. This is the list. This is the difference between life and death. 1,100 Jewish people are saved because of this list.

So the book covers how certain actors were cast and why. How Liam Neesom was not well known and Spielberg did not want any well known actors. This was true in every case save Ishtak Stern, his accountant who was Ben Kingsley. It discusses the use of light, the props, the set, the costumes, and the pivotal scenes that you wondered how they were filmed. It was a little exhausting, although not as exhausting as watching the movie. Still, I had weird and somewhat disturbing dreams for two or three nights.

The second half is about the Shoah Foundation which is an important work in progress. The Shoah Foundation preserves the oral history of the people during WWII and now other conflicts where genocide is rampant. Although very important, I didn't find this part of the book as compelling. The movie was incredibly well done and a visceral experience thus I had a lot more invested in understanding. The Shoah Foundation is a huge undertaking and very important but I don't have as much interest in the process.

A great book. I really enjoyed it.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic by Hazel Gaynor

The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the TitanicThe Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic by Hazel Gaynor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description: Inspired by true events surrounding a group of Irish emigrants who sailed on the maiden voyage of R.M.S Titanic, The Girl Who Came Home is a story of enduring love and forgiveness, spanning seventy years. It is also the story of the world’s most famous ship, whose tragic legacy continues to captivate our hearts and imaginations one hundred years after she sank to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean with such a devastating loss of life. 

In a rural Irish village in April 1912, seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy is anxious about the trip to America. While the thirteen others she will travel with from her Parish anticipate a life of prosperity and opportunity - including her strict Aunt Kathleen who will be her chaperon for the journey - Maggie is distraught to be leaving Séamus, the man she loves with all her heart. As the carts rumble out of the village, she clutches a packet of love letters in her coat pocket and hopes that Séamus will be able to join her in America soon. 

In Southampton, England, Harry Walsh boards Titanic as a Third Class Steward, excited to be working on this magnificent ship. After the final embarkation stop in Ireland, Titanic steams across the Atlantic Ocean. Harry befriends Maggie and her friends from the Irish group; their spirits are high and life on board is much grander than any of them could have ever imagined. Being friendly with Harold Bride, one of the Marconi radio operators, Harry offers to help Maggie send a telegram home to Séamus. But on the evening of April 14th, when Titanic hits an iceberg, Maggie’s message is only partly transmitted, leaving Séamus confused by what he reads. 

As the full scale of the disaster unfolds, luck and love will decide the fate of the Irish emigrants and those whose lives they have touched on board the ship. In unimaginable circumstances, Maggie survives, arriving three days later in New York on the rescue ship Carpathia. She has only the nightdress she is wearing, a small case and a borrowed coat, to her name. She doesn’t speak of Titanic again for seventy years.

In Chicago, 1982, twenty-one year old Grace Butler is stunned to learn that her Great Nana Maggie sailed on Titanic and sets out to write Maggie's story as a way to resurrect her journalism career. When it is published, Grace receives a surprising phone call, starting a chain of events which will reveal the whereabouts of Maggie’s missing love letters and the fate of those she sailed with seventy years ago. But it isn't until a final journey back to Ireland that the full extent of Titanic’s secrets are revealed and Maggie is able to finally make peace with her past.

My thoughts: The tragedy of the Titanic continues to intrigue 100 years after the tragedy. Since I read A Night to Remember and the book by Robert Ballard, the scientist who led the expedition that ultimately found the remnants of the Titanic (two miles from the surface of the ocean), along with seeing the movie with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DeCaprio, my understanding of the events are well enough established. In some ways, it is a retelling of the Titanic movie. A lot of descriptions of the size, luxury, detail, and dissonance in class. In other ways, it offered some new perspectives.

The book is loosely based on a real village in Ireland that lost 11 out of 14 from the ship - a huge loss for such a small village. Some of the experiences are also based on these people's lives. Although historically correct, some of them felt forced. The story didn't flow as easily. It was also somewhat repetitive as the story played out then was repeated in a conversation a few pages later. That's a personal writing style and is not wrong, by any means, I just found I could skim that part without missing anything.

What the story provided that was new and interesting was the AFTER. Most of the books and movies about the Titanic focus on the events leading up to the sinking. The author does a wonderful job of describing the experience of being on the life boat, suffering hypothermia, going into shock with hypothermia and shock from losing loved ones and watching the ship sink, waiting 8 hours for the Carpathia, some falling into unconsciousness or semi-unconsciousness, the rescue, the wait, the hospital stays, the mood at the harbor in New York, etc. It is a much more comprehensive picture of what happened AFTER.

Overall, a good read.