Sunday, March 31, 2013

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee – Going Against the Grain

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Book cover)
I’m sure some, if not most of you have already heard about To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee… as a matter of fact, chances are that you were force-fed while being back in school. Regardless of what emotions or grudges you may have from your experience with this book, I highly recommend that you read it from your current, fresh, adult perspective if you haven’t already.

To refresh your memory a bit, To Kill a Mockingbird, which was actually made into numerous full-feature movies, tells the story of Atticus Finch, a quiet lawyer who lives in the Deep South during the 1930s. One day, the town gathers for a trial, that of a black man accused of raping a white girl. Atticus seems to be the only man in the town willing to even consider that the accused may be innocent. And so begins the lengthy and even somewhat humorous trial in which Atticus, the calm and quiet hero, unravels bit by bit the layers of racism, hypocrisy, irrationality and prejudice the adults of the town harbor. He spends the entire book attempting to deconstruct the close-minded and dangerous point of view the citizens of the town have come to harbor.

I’m sure you aren’t having too much difficulty seeing why this book was declared such a classic; it deals with a theme many people admit to exist but don’t want to touch. Racism is a very fine line, and Harper Lee does a better job than most at fighting it with rational arguments instead of just screaming out his emotions. He provides examples and arguments to the point where those actively fighting against racism should be using this book to prove their points. It’s well-developed to the point of being almost as insightful as a scientific study.

Needless to say, the story itself and its actors are all more than worthy of attention, although it is true that Atticus steals the show from under everyone’s nose. The tension is unbearable right up until the end, for even though Atticus argues well, we, the readers, know that historically-speaking, logic seldom successfully got in the way of racism. All in all, this is definitely a book anyone ought to read, as it magnificently and realistically deals with an issue still widely present to this very day.

Harper Lee (April 28, 1926)

Harper Lee (April 28, 1926 - February 19, 2016)

Personal site

Harper Lee is an author of American origin who is without a doubt best-known around the world for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Though she did publish articles, that book remains her sole one, though it did also earn her the Presidential Medal for Freedom as well as a large number of honorary degrees.

More of the Harper Lee's book reviews:
Go Set a Watchman

Saturday, March 30, 2013

“Still Alice” by Lisa Genova – Who are you?

Still Alice by Lisa Genova (Book cover)
We often hear stories about people spiraling away into insanity, with some even witnessing such happenings first-hand. However, it is one of those things a person simply cannot understand without experiencing it; it can be observed and described, but once it actually happens to you, chances are you’ll have a lot of trouble sharing your story.

In any case, in Still Alice by Lisa Genova, we are told such a story from an omniscient perspective as Alice, a fifty year-old woman at the peak of her career and personal life, suddenly has to deal with an early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

In greater detail, Alice Howland isn’t just any kind of woman; she is a renowned Harvard professor at the climax of her career, has a loving husband, three grown children and a house on the Cape. All in all, about as ideal as a life can ever get.

Friday, March 29, 2013

“Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts – The Blacksmiths of Fate

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts - book cover
Fate is a strange thing: some believe we control entirely, others believe we control it partially, and a third group believes we have no control over it at all. While there are other schools of thought, those three are the main ones.

Unfortunately, as far as we are concerned, we are only living on one timeline, and determining whether or not we have control over our fate would require us to at least go back in time. In any case, what I’m getting at is that fate is one of the most interesting subjects out there for there are no facts to support any kind of conclusion, and I find that in Shantaram, the author, Gregory David Roberts, does justice to that subject.

In Shantaram we are told the story of Lin, a prisoner who manages to escape from a maximum security prison in Australia. Having no place to go, Lin decides to hide in the underworld of modern Bombay, a place where thieves, bandits, murderers, soldiers, actors, prostitutes, gangsters and even holy men can be found aplenty. Once in Bombay, Lin opens up a clinic while searching for love and a meaning to his life. However, soon enough he attracts the interest of the local Bombay mafia, which in turn shove Lin into a life of war, torture, prison, murder, betrayal, terror, and destitution, a life filled with mysteries only two highly-regarded and extremely dangerous people can answer.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

“Plummet” by Michael Zarocostas – The Crooked Sword of Justice

While justice may be something that shouldn't be anything but factual and impartial, those who administer it are, after all, human beings, and in some cases, they are a far cry from being factual and impartial.

We can see this phenomenon at its brightest in Plummet by Michael Zarocostas, a book in which we are told a whodunit story taking place in Manhattan’s most renowned law firm. More precisely, it follows three lawyers: a rookie who just got out of law school, a degenerate senior who can’t resist temptations, and another senior who is a millionaire and living the dream life. Two of those lawyers have a lover in common, and soon, one of them is found murdered.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini – The Unlikely Friendship

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (Book cover)
If there is one thing Khaled Hosseini is known for more than anything else, it’s his ability to create an authentic, believable, and basically true-to-life Middle Eastern setting for his stories, something very few other authors can even come close to managing.

The first time he displayed his skills in front of the whole wide world he wrote The Kite Runner, a novel about a very unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and his servant’s son, one that lasts over thirty years in a country torn apart by war and countless conflicts.

Just like in Hosseini’s other novels, the setting and environment is simply unrivaled: his precise and larger-than-life descriptions truly make the place come alive, even giving it an identity of its own. It feels like the environment is some sort of omniscient director who controls, or at least influences, the fate of those living in it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

“Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War” by Karl Marlantes – The Horrible Truth Novelized

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes
Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War was written by Karl Marlantes over a period of more than thirty years. Marlantes himself is a veteran of the Vietnam War, and in this book he tells us the story of a young Marine Lieutenant, Waino Mellas, and his fellow comrades in Bravo Company.

The group of young boys, barely even adults, is forced through countless perils in the Vietnamese jungle, including malnutrition, wild animals, mud, monsoon rain, disease, and of course, enemy soldiers. As if that wasn’t enough, there are also some internal struggles in the form of racial tension, colliding ambitions and treachery. Soon, the boys are due to become men.

Monday, March 25, 2013

“Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver – The Clash of Science and Religion

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (Book cover)
In Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingslover we follow the story of a young and bored woman by the name of Dellarobia Turnbow, living in rural Tennessee. One day, in an attempt to escape the boredom plaguing her life, she makes her way up the mountain behind her husband’s farm and stumbles into what is known as the “Valley of Fire”, where she sees millions of monarch butterflies.

The local parish is very quick to label this event as being truly miraculous and a sign of great things to come. When a scientist makes his way to the quaint little town to study the phenomenon, he makes an alarming discovery: the butterflies could be a sign of an impending natural disaster.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

“East of Eden” by John Steinbeck – Pushing the Boundaries

East of Eden by John Steinbeck - book cover
Basically-put, East of Eden by John Steinbeck is a loose retelling of the book of Genesis using modern Americans. It follows the events that take place in a family, with there being many obvious references, allegories, metaphors and more.

What sets this work apart from the other John Steinbeck books, such as Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, is the fact that it is more loose in its structure, more vague in its meaning, and much more daring in its events.

It is a very lively novel, and it shows that Steinbeck had a lot of pleasure in letting his imagination fly whichever way he wanted to; it is vulgar, provocative, and though-provoking, all in one. While it is true that some of you may be turned off by the loose, sort of rambling-like structure of the book, I recommend you give it a chance and look past that. Not all books were meant to follow cookie-cutter rules, and this is definitely one that breaks the mold. Even the pacing is highly irregular, with certain sections flowing like a breeze and others like a hurricane.

In the end, East of Eden may not be the most enthralling novel, it may not have the best structure, the best wording, characters, pacing or story... but damn is it entertaining. Steinbeck is simply a master at taking classic tales and stories and then modernizing them to the point where they become almost unrecognizable without losing their meaning.

I have to warn you that the novel does have a bit of slow start, and it takes time for all the important pieces to fall in place and for the gears to finally start grinding. However, once the takeoff occurs, chances are you’ll have a very hard time stopping yourself from reading further.

All in all, while East of Eden may be a flawed novel and not as successful as some of Steinbeck’s other works, it definitely has its own personality and is a unique book amongst the author’s collection. There are no clear-cut, black and white rules and morals; everything is as grey as the clouds, and that’s what allowed Steinbeck to make this into one of the most original and entertaining books you’ll read in your life. Definitely recommended to fans of the author and those who want an extra dose of originality in their readings.

John Steinbeck (February 27, 1902 - December 20th, 1968)

John Steinbeck (February 27, 1902 - December 20th, 1968)

Personal site

John Steinbeck was an American author who became one of the great literature titans that will no doubt outlive the vast majority of us through his works. Amongst the many stories he wrote are the immortal Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, and Grapes of Wrath, which earned him the Pulitzer Prize.

It absolutely, imperatively has to be noted that Steinbeck is one of the very few people on this planet who have had the honor of winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, something that took place back in 1962.

More of the John Steinbeck's book reviews:
Of Mice and Men

Friday, March 22, 2013

“Hyperion” by Dan Simmons – In Search of a Strange God

Hyperion by Dan Simmons (Book cover)
Hyperion by Dan Simmons is one of the most revered science fiction novels of the 20th century, taking place on the eponymously-named world where people live beyond the laws of man. On this world, Hyperion, a mysterious creature of supposedly-immense power awaits, only known as the Shrike. It is unclear as to what it is exactly, with many fearing it, others revering it, and with the rest declaring it something that needs to be destroyed at all costs.

However, getting to the mysterious Shrike is far from being a walk in the park; not only is the universe on the brink of Armageddon, but he/she/it awaits in the Valley of Time Tombs, a very hard-to-reach place (to say the least) dominated by giant structures that are capable of moving through time.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

“Black List” by Brad Thor – Knowledge and Power

Black List by Brad Thor - book cover
Steadily, Brad Thor has been becoming one of the most celebrated thriller writers out there, with every one of his books being somehow better than the last. With Black List, it seems to me that Brad Thor has once again outdone himself, bringing to us a real thriller of a novel revolving around the James Bondesque Scot Harvath, a counter-terrorist.

One day, somehow, his name suddenly appears on the "Black List", which is literally a list privy to the eyes of the President and a few of his most trusted advisors. Unfortunately, this is the type of blacklist that indicates one thing: who is to be assassinated. And so, in Black List by Brad Thor, we follow Scot as he tries to escape from the teams of assassins sent to kill him all while trying to figure out who set him up and why.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini – The Flowers of War

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - book cover
I find that in the present day, there is a distinct lack of Middle Eastern literature... and I’m not just talking about novels that take place in that exotic part of the world. I’m talking about books written by people who can give first-hand accounts of what life and certain historical events were/are like... I’m talking about authentic books in which authors know well both the beauty and ugliness of it all. By chance, I happened to stumble across A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, an Afghan-born novelist and physician.

In his book, Hosseini tells us the life of two young women who are caught in the midst of the Afghan War, covering more than thirty years of history. Without focusing too much on the politics of the war, the author takes much greater care in telling us the lives of these two women, Mariam and Laila, how they and their families are affected by the conflict around them. It’s about how they manage to endure all the increasingly-deadly hardships they face, all while never losing their senses of love and compassion, without ever losing their humanity.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

“Into the Darkest Corner” by Elizabeth Haynes – The Impact of One Moment

Into the Darkest Corner, written by Elizabeth Haynes, introduces to the young and beautiful Catherine Bailey, full of hopes and dreams of having a wonderful life. One day, she makes the acquaintance of Lee Brightman, and it seems she gets closer to living her dream life; he is the perfect man, albeit a bit mysterious. However, after some time, their relationship dissolves into chaos, with Lee displaying a very dark, brutal and violent side he kept hidden all this time.

After failing to gain support from her friends to break it up, she makes a plan to escape her predicament. Skip forward to four years later, and Catherine lives a new life in a new city while Lee is rotting behind bars. Understandably still traumatized, Catherine is trying to piece her life back together, at which point a new attractive neighbor moves in next to her, encouraging her to face her fear. It seems as if all will be fine from now, until the moment Catherine gets the one phone call she has been fearing all of these years...

Monday, March 18, 2013

“Warm Bodies” by Isaac Marion – What Zombies Want

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion - book cover
Most novels about the zombie apocalypse out there, regardless of their differences, have the same structure: it is told through the point of view of one or multiple survivors of the apocalypse who try to make their way somewhere while fighting off hordes of the undead, all while learning that people can be worse than zombies.

However, in Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, the approach taken is quite different. The story is told through the perspective of R, a young man facing a crisis: he is a zombie. However, he isn’t brain-dead like all the books and movies would imply. In fact, he has a very complex emotional life brewing inside, but he can barely communicate. One day, upon eating a teenager’s brains, he recovers his memories, most importantly, that of his victim’s girlfriend. Unexpectedly, this conjures up all sorts of emotions in him, and so R sets out to have one of the creepiest relationships in the history of literature.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

“The Twelfth Imam” by Joel C. Rosenberg – The Gifts of 1979

The Twelfth Imam by Joel C. Rosenberg - book cover
While the Iranian Revolution may have happened more than three decades ago, it is far from being over and forgotten. The massive shockwaves it sent out have traveled through time, and such is the setting for The Twelfth Imam by Joel C. Rosenberg.

More precisely, it follows the exploits of David Shirazi, a Farsi-born CIA operative whose family escaped from Iran in 1979, at the peak of the revolution. Today, Shirazi is sent back into the country, at which point he finds himself face to face with a phenomenon: a relatively mysterious cleric known as the Twelfth Imam has suddenly rallied the country with tales and rumors of his powers and miracles. Regardless of whether or not he is a holy man, the Imam’s prophecy has seemingly been fulfilled, and the country is gearing up to launch a full-scale assault against Israel.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

“Heart-Shaped Box” by Joe Hill – Playing with Fire

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill - book cover
Judas Coyne is a death metal rock god, one that has legions of fans at his back, despite his best days having left him very long ago. If there is one thing Judas is passionate about in his life, it’s the collection of macabre treasures, such as a used hangman’s noose, a snuff film, or even a cannibal cookbook.

One day though, he notices an add in which someone is selling their stepfather’s soul, apparently trapped in a suit. Knowing no fear, Judas decides he must have that trinket, whatever it is. However, when he is presented with the heart-shaped box containing the soul, he unleashes it without thought, subjecting himself to the most horrific and realistic haunting in his entire life.

For some reason, Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill sent me jogging down memory lane, remembering all of those old horror movies and stories designed to teach people truths and morals, regardless of their age (although most of them were primarily designed for kids). The premise is perfect: a self-confident man who keeps on tempting fate bits off far more than he can chew, entering a dark game he knows nothing about.

Friday, March 15, 2013

“Damascus Countdown” by Joel C. Rosenberg – Heroes of Prevention

Damascus Countdown by Joel C. Rosenberg - book cover
In my opinion (and probably that of many others) some of the greatest heroes to ever grace to Earth will remain unknown until the end of time, for their heroism lied in the prevention of some kind of catastrophe, rather than retaliation or repair. In Damascus Countdown by Joel C. Rosenberg, we follow the story of such a hero, one whose deeds may make him one of the greatest people to have ever lived on Earth.

It begins as Israel launches an air strike on Iran, attempting to destroy all of their nuclear arsenal so as to eliminate an ever-looming threat. Such a course of action caused the Imam to command a full retaliation against the nation. Meanwhile, the United Nations are resolving to condemn Israel for such an unprovoked act of aggression.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

“The Sum of All Fears” by Tom Clancy – Nuclear Armageddon

First off, yes, The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy was actually made into a movie with Morgan Freeman and Ben Affleck, and although it hasn't exactly received the best reviews, it wasn’t a bad movie. If you are planning on judging the book following what you have seen in the motion picture, I would urge you to take a deep breath and remind yourself how different books can be from movies.

In any case, for those hearing about it for the first time ever, the story starts off as a group of terrorists decide to rekindle the Cold War between the Americans and the Soviet Union, who are almost at peace with each other at the moment. In order to accomplish their plan, the terrorists get ahold of nuclear weaponry and hide it on American soil, hoping that the conflict will also prevent Israelis from making peace with the Palestinians. In other words, the whole world is on the verge of nuclear wear, and deputy director of the CIA, Jack Ryan, is the man with the plan to stop it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

“The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren – How to Live your Purpose

The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren - book cover
First off, I’m going to say that even though I do believe that there is some kind of higher power out there, I’m not a religious person. Though I was baptized as an Orthodox Christian, I decided to stop following the teachings of religious groups (mostly due to the club mentality of it all), attempting to find out the truth for myself.

Regardless of what I have found and come to believe, I cannot help but pay attention to The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, the second most published book on Earth, after the Bible of course. It focuses on giving an answer to a question most of us have probably pondered time after time without results: what is our purpose in life, and how do we live it?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

“Ghost Wars” by Steve Coll – The Truth Behind the Secret

Ghost Wars by Steve Coll - book cover
As you all probably know, the CIA is one of the world’s most secretive organizations, lending covert assistance when it comes to civil and military operations alike. In Ghost Wars, Steve Coll comes out with a detailed overview of the CIA’s history, starting with their involvement in Afghanistan with the Soviet Union, going all the way to September 10th, 2001, when they began an invasion.

The book is a factual one, although there is a slight bit of novelization to it, and even though it is true that some of the so-called facts may have been fabricated, everything points to this being a true, honest and legitimate account of one of history’s most secretive organizations.

Monday, March 11, 2013

"Anathem" by Neal Stephenson – The Power of Rationality

Anathem by Neal Stephenson book cover
In Anathem, by Neal Setphenson, author of classics such as Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle, we are presented with a strange, alternate world where men of science, mathematics and philosophy are confined to live in seclusion behind the walls of an ancient monastery, keeping on doing their work in complete isolation from everyone else.

However, suddenly the threat of an existence-ending cataclysm looms on the horizon, and humanity is helpless to stop it. In a last-ditch effort to save the day, the scientists, philosophers and mathematicians are brought back into the world once again and are asked to try and deal with the impending doom about to swallow everyone. Naturally, they all agree, and so begins a quest of intellect to stop and unstoppable doom.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

“Enemies: A History of the FBI” by Tim Weiner – The Eternal War on Crime

Enemies: A History of the FBI by Tim Weiner (Book cover)
While it is true that there are many things that need to be experienced or seen first-hand in this life to truly be known or understood, there are also other truths you can use common sense to deduce.

For instance, one doesn’t need be a rocket scientist or the greatest detective since Sherlock Holmes to deduce that the FBI has a long, secretive and shadowy history that spans over a hundred years. Even though many of their actions have never been disclosed, we can always guess as to their involvement when it comes to preserving the security of American people. However, it seems that we no longer have to guess, ever since Tim Weiner released Enemies: A History of the FBI.

Tim Weiner himself was an employee of the Pentagon and the CIA, so if anyone knows the subject, it’s him. He provides not only information as to the operations the FBI has undertaken over the course of numerous decades, but he also looks into the organization’s inner workings, the ideology its leaders and employees are following, their motivations, as well as the impact the organization had on crime and regular citizens. It’s basically the hidden story of one of the United States’ most secret intelligence organizations.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

“Argo” by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio – Glamorous Espionage

Argo by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio – book cover
The 20th century was a very turbulent one for the people of Iran, as numerous political events, including, the nationalization of foreign oil industries, a coup d’etat, and an ever-increasing rise in poverty, have led to what became known as the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

When it happened, millions of citizens surrounded the American embassy in Tehran, capturing nearly all of those within as hostages, also executing many of them. However, amidst the smoke six American foreign relation officers managed to escape and have gone into hiding. Argo by Antonio Mendez and Matt Baglio is about the operation the conducted in order to rescue those six Americans.

First off, I think you should know that Antonio Mendez was actually the man who was tasked with going to Tehran and personally escorting the six American diplomats through the Iranian border. In other words, he was the one executing the mission, meaning there are few people out there who know more about it than he does.

How did he go about it? Well, back in America a whole cover operation was set up with the help of Hollywood in order to make Antonio Mendez pass off as a Canadian film producer on a location scouting trip. He was to get into Iran, deliver documents to the six Americans, making them part of his filming crew, and then simply leaving with no one the wiser. However, the operation proves itself to be more dangerous, tense, and gripping than initially planned.

The first thing that amazed me in this book was the sheer complexity of the whole operation, the depths people went to in order to make sure that everything looks legitimate. Countless measures are taken in order to ensure that all the “what if” scenarios are covered. The process of putting the whole thing together is phenomenally-described, and it shows that Antonio Mendez truly knows what he is talking about and doesn’t shy away from revealing information.

Apart from the whole factual aspect of it, I have to say that the mission was quite well novelized without sacrificing accuracy for it. There aren’t exactly any extraordinary moments in there in the conventional sense of the term, but there are a few sequences that are especially chilling, boiling with unimaginable tension as one misstep can end up costing very dearly to all of them.

Also, the fact that Hollywood was involved in such a high-stakes operation simply served to make the whole thing that much more improbable, that much more unbelievable, and that much more of a pleasure to watch unfold. If you’re into novelized, factually-accurate first-accounts of military operations, I heavily recommend you read this book, and if you like it, perhaps you could also check out the movie by the same name, brilliantly directed by Ben Affleck.

Matt Baglio

Matt Baglio

Personal site

Matt Baglio is a young author with already a bestselling book under his belt, The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist. His one true goal, in regards to literature at least, is to bring the unaltered truth to his readers in regards to the spiritual questions which plague us all.
Antonio Mendez (1940)

Antonio Mendez

Antonio Mendez is a retired American CIA technical operations officer who took part in a number of clandestine and covert operations held by the organization. Most notably he is known for his management of the “Canadian Caper” during the Iran hostage crisis in 1980, and so far he has written three memoirs based on his CIA experiences, including Master of Disguise, Spy Dust and Argo.

More of the Matt Baglio's book reviews:
The Rite

Friday, March 08, 2013

“Nine Stories” by J. D. Salinger – Man’s Eternal War

Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger - book cover
Most of you probably know J. D. Salinger for his famous novel that has become a mandatory reading in many schools, The Catcher in the Rye. However, most people forget that despite what they felt about that book, Salinger has written many other, different ones, and it took more than one piece of work in order to get him recognized as an internationally-celebrated author.

Without a doubt, Nine Stories is one of those works that helped him to achieve his status. As you can probably tell by the title, the book is a collection of nine different stories, only related by themes and not by plot. These include “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”, “Just Before the War with the Eskimos”, “The Laughing Man”, “Down at the Dinghy”, “For Esme -- With Love and Squalo”, “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes”, “De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period”, and “Teddy”.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

“Crazy Little Thing” by Tracy Brogan – You Get What you don’t Want

Crazy Little Thing by Tracy Brogan book cover
In Crazy Little Thing by Tracy Brogan we are introduced to Sadie Turner, who cannot live her life unless everything is in perfect order, and as you can guess, it’s far from it, especially since her now-ex-husband cheated on her.

In order to recuperate she decides to spend a summer vacation at her aunt’s lake house, in hopes of finding some peace, tranquility, and put her life back in order. During this time, she has vowed to stay away from all men, without a single exception. However, when she arrives to her aunt’s, things become everything but peaceful and quiet.

There is an eccentric decorator who wants to give Sadie a makeover, she has to live with two mischievous dogs and her two cousins, not to mention that her aunt, Dody, tries to set her up with her new, drop-dead gorgeous neighbour, Desmond, who seems to be the perfect man.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

“The Ghost Writer” by Philip Roth – Life and Books

The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth (Book cover)
Nathan Zuckerman is a young and budding writer whose life can be summed up using one word: literature. He spends his time burying his nose into any book he can get his hands on, hoping to find some kind of meaning to his life in the literature he reads.

The era he is living in is right after the Second World War, in the 1950s. During his travels he comes to stay at a lonely New England farmhouse, one that belongs to his idol, E. I. Lonoff. While staying there, Zuckerman comes to make the acquaintance of a young woman by the name of Amy Bellette, whose strange mannerisms and mysterious background intrigue Zuckerman. As becomes apparent, she was once a student of Lonoff, perhaps even his mistress... and what’s more, Zuckerman suspects she was the victim of Nazi persecution, something that can end up changing his entire life.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

“The Hunt for Red October” by Tom Clancy – The Great Chase

While Tom Clancy may be a household name these days, with plenty of novels, a few movies, and even video games under his belt, there was a time when he was a simple insurance salesman, simply trying to make his way through the world.

He wrote in his spare time, and most people are going to argue that when it comes to Tom Clancy, The Hunt for Red October was his magnum opus, projecting him into fame and stardom. There was even a movie filmed based on the book, starring Sean Connery.

As for the story, on the surface it’s quite simple, but the deeper you go, the more complicated things seem to get. There is a Russian submarine called the Red October, and its crew has suddenly decided to head West, towards American soil with their goal being to defect (as far as everyone is concerned anyways).

Monday, March 04, 2013

“The Storyteller” by Jodi Picoult – A Question of Morality

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult - book cover
In The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult, we are introduced to Sage Singer. She runs her own bakery, spending her nights preparing the goods for the morning, hoping to escape the gaping emptiness that her life has become.

Her head filled with memories of a past she’d rather forget, an acceptance of the reality that she is a lonely soul, and as if that wasn’t enough, she also has the passing of mother weighing down on her shoulders. One day though, she makes the acquaintance of an old man at her grief support group.

The man starts to stop by the bakery, and they develop a friendship, however unlikely it may be considering all of their differences. As they become more comfortable with each other, the old man, Josef, reveals to her a dark secret he hasn’t told anyone else before… and requests her help (I won’t say what exactly for fear of spoiling the story for you).

Sunday, March 03, 2013

“The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey – Reality or Insanity?

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey - book cover
When most of us think of Alaska, we probably picture some kind of gloom and snowy wasteland with a few buildings here and there. Well, I’ve personally never been there, but I do have a good idea of what the Alaskan wilderness looks like (thanks to pictures and Google Earth), and I can tell you one thing: it’s not a place I would want to live in.

In The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, we follow the story of a childless couple, living on a farm in the Alaskan wilderness in 1920. Both Jack and Mabel are on the brink of losing their sanity from loneliness and the amount of hard work that needs to be done.

When the first snowfall comes, they decide to simply build a little child snowman, just for the heck of it. However, the next morning the snow child is gone, but the couple comes to meet a blonde-haired girl, Faina, who has apparently been living in the woods for God-knows how long now. As they learn more and more about her, the dark truths of the violent wilderness come to light, changing everyone involved.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

“Touch & Go” by Lisa Gardner – The Cost of Perfection

Touch & Go by Lisa Gardner - book cover
In Touch & Go by Lisa Gardner we are presented with the Denbe family. They are the perfect model, with the husband Justin and his wife Libby being as happy as they ever were, and their gorgeous fifteen year-old daughter, Ashlyn, living the perfect life any teenager could ask for. They have installed themselves in one of Boston’s most prestigious neighborhoods, and they are admired by all of their family, friends and neighbors.

However, one day the family goes missing, and it’s not like they went on vacation. Investigator Tessa Leoni arrives at their house only to discover that they have left behind their most prized possessions, along with a bunch of confetti in the foyer. Everything leads the police to believe that there has been a kidnapping… but why? No ransom demands were made, there were no witnesses, and so even the motive behind this act is unknown.

Friday, March 01, 2013

“The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain – The Lost Generation

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Hadley Richardson is a very quiet and unassuming twenty year-old lady who has given up on the chance of ever finding true love and happiness in her life. However, as fate usually does, it threw a wrench in her plans by introducing her to one of the century’s most influential authors, Ernest Hemingway.

The passion that joins them seems to know no weakness, and soon after the wedding, they set sail for Paris and become part of a very interesting group of people: the Lost Generation, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein.

Regardless of the love they both feel for each other, Hadley and Ernest start having a hard time as the constant drinking, risk-taking, love and omnipresent Jazz make for a lot to handle, both of them struggling with their own demons.

Ernest, on one hand, is still trying to come up with that one novel that will immortalize him, while Hadley is having an identity crisis, trying to hold on to the person she was before Paris, and finding it increasingly complicated to comply with all the roles she is expected to fulfill. Ultimately, every good thing must come to an end, and that end begins in the form of a deception and betrayal.

First off, while The Paris Wife by Paula McLain this isn’t exactly a biography, it isn’t completely fictive either. Rather, it’s a bit of a romanticized look at the life Ernest led with Hadley, who arguably played a very important role in his life, perhaps more important than the one he played in hers. The whole story is made even more touching by the fact that after all was said and done, Ernest admitted that he would have rather been dead than fall in love with anyone apart from Hadley.

This is one of those novels that isn’t exactly about the end of it, but about the trip. It’s about a bygone era that very soon no one will remember, Paris in the 1920s. It was a time when people were breaking out of their cocoons and flourishing in a free-spirited way, a time when some of the greatest minds in the century were still alive.

I have to add that the whole cast of this novel is simply fascinating to behold, including the celebrities mentioned above (Fitzgerald, Pound and Stein). Seeing them all interact with each other in informal ways as friends would brings a sort of comic light-heartedness to this book that is mainly a drama and an exploration of how love and loyalty can impact a person’s life and change it forever. All in all, The Paris Wife presents an enthralling account of Hemingway’s life (amongst other things), and is definitely worth a read for those who want to learn a bit more about that magical era.

Paula McLain (1965)

Paula McLain

Paula McLain is an author of American origin whose fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage, titled The Paris Wife, became a bestseller in the New York Times. In addition she also published a nonfiction memoir titled Like Family, and a couple of poetry works titled Less of Her and Stumble, Gorgeous.