Saturday, November 30, 2013

Gliding Over the World of Literature – Issue 31

Hello to all, and welcome back for yet another informative session in what is the thirty-first edition of Gliding Over the World of Literature. Today, we are going to start off our exciting journey into the world of books by taking a look at the first and most expensive book in the United States, we will follow with an exploration of how rare books are targeted by criminals more than we imagine, and finish things off with some tips and tricks from Richard Davies, a rather successful book collector.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

“The Time Keeper” by Mitch Albom – The Value of Time

The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom – book cover
No one goes through life knowing the concept of time without spending some time thinking about it. Does time truly exist, or is it merely a human construct which we use to measure our lives? Because the question is rather philosophical in its nature, I have yet to find an answer which conclusively supports one side of the debate over the other. Nevertheless, it is a very interesting subject which deserves to be explored deeper at any given opportunity, and it’s the grand theme The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom revolves around.

In this book, we are basically following the story of the inventor of the first clock, the man who managed to measure the greatest gift humanity was bestowed with. However, God decides to punish this man, banishing him into a cave and forcing him to listen to the voices of all those seeking a bit more time on this Earth. Just when he is nearly broken, God gives the man a shot at redemption: he is tasked with going back to Earth, finding two people and teaching them the true meaning and value of time. One is a teenage girl who is sick and giving up on life, and the other one is an old and wealthy man desperately seeking eternal life.

Monday, November 25, 2013

“Agent Zigzag” by Ben Macintyre – Playing Both Sides of the Fence

Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre – Book Cover
The Second World War has given rise to countless tales of heroism that will hopefully be carried on for centuries and centuries to come. As a matter of fact, there are so many of them that one would be hard-pressed to discover them all in one lifetime. At this point, those who studied the war know that a huge part of it was not fought with guns, but with information and espionage tactics.

In many situations, one piece of data could turn the tides of a coming battle or save hundreds, if not thousands of human lives. Eddie Chapman is without a doubt one of the most famous double agents to have ever lived, and though he was not exactly James Bond, he put is life at risk innumerable times to accomplish his missions. Agent Zigzag by Ben Macintyre is basically Chapman’s biography, but what sets it apart from the ones written before it is the fact that a number of files in regards to Chapman’s time as a secret agent were recently declassified. In other words, this is truest picture we have come to elaborate of Chapman’s life.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

“Sycamore Row” by John Grisham – The Power of Will

Sycamore Row is yet another legal thriller from John Grisham, and for this one we return to the courthouse in Clanton, previously seen in A Time to Kill. This time around, Jack Brigance finds himself in the middle of a rather peculiar case, certainly no less strange than the last one. Everything began when Seth Hubbard, a wealthy man dying from lung cancer, decided to hang himself on a sycamore tree. It wouldn’t all be so bad if it wasn’t for the new will he hastily left behind in his departure.

Needless to say, that little piece of paper with words on it turns everything upside down, as he suddenly decided to leave virtually all of his fortune to his maid (who is black, which is important in this book’s context) rather than his own family. This rash act raises many questions and pulls Hubbard’s family, his maid and Jake Brigance himself into a very convoluted web of events where every answer gives birth to two new mysteries.

To begin, I’d like to address the John Grisham fans out there who are wondering whether or not this is really a sequel to A Time to Kill. To be frank, this depends on how you define what a sequel is. In my opinion, it is more of a spiritual sequel than anything, using some of the same characters and geographic location. However, the two stories are not related to each other and each one stands on its own as a separate case.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Gliding Over the World of Literature – Issue 30

Greetings to everyone and welcome back to Gliding Over the World of Literature, for what today is the thirtieth issue of our little online news delivery. This time, we will start off by looking at some recently-discovered ancient books which may contain the earliest portrait of Jesus known to man, after which we will have a glance at six writers who accidentally birthed masterpieces, and finish thins off by checking out the ruling in regards to a collection of works by Franz Kafka.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"A Tale for the Time Being" by Ruth Ozeki – A Life in a Lunchbox

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki – Book Cover
Though perhaps those who are used to the Western way of living sometimes crack jokes about the prevalence of suicide in certain Asian cultures, such as the Japanese one, the truth is that it is a very real problem on the other side of the pacific. Countless people of all ages and all types of lives put an end to their existence on a very regular basis, believing that it is by far the best solution to any problems they may be experiencing.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is basically set in motion by this phenomenon, as a Japanese teenager living in Tokyo decides to end her life of bullying and loneliness. However, before she does so, Naoko decides to chronicle the life of her Great Grandmother who was a Buddhist monk who managed to live more than a hundred years. However, that is only part of the story as on the other side of a Pacific lives Ruth, an author suffering from writer’s block and praying for some kind of intervention. She finds in the form of a lunchbox that washes up on a shore, containing the story of Nao’s life.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

“The Light in the Ruins” by Chris Bohjalian – Desolating Beauty

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian – Book Cover
The year is 1943, and the Rosati family is safely tucked away into their villa standing in the lush hills south of breathtaking Florence. The war is of no concern to them as the walls keep them protected and they are way out of harm’s way. However, their idyllic life is soon ruptured as two soldiers approach and demand to use their villa as refuge. Needless to say, more Nazi soldiers start pouring in, and the villa slowly turns into a nightmarish prison from the safe haven it once was. Fast forwarding twelve years later, it is now 1955, and though the war is over, the Rosatis still aren’t out of the woods; there is a serial killer who is methodically finishing them off one by one. Serafina Bettini is the gorgeous investigator tasked with finding that killer, but in the process she must also face the scars the war left on her and fight her inner demons before she can move on to the real ones.

Such is the rather complex premise of The Light in the Ruins, a novel by Chris Bohjalian who has never failed to commentate on one social issue or another, having seemingly written most of his novels for that very purpose. For starters, I have to say that this novel lacks a bit in structure and rigidity, jumping back and forth between 1943 and 1955 at every chapter. Though it would sound like a nice arrangement, the two timelines are quite different in their events and at the end of one chapter it is easy to forget what was happening in the last one.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

“Necessary Lies” by Diane Chamberlain – Fear of Difference

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain – Book Cover
In Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain we are introduced to a fifteen year-old girl named Ivy Hart, living on a tobacco farm in North Carolina during the 1960s. She lives in a shack, and what’s more, she must take care of her aging grandmother, her mentally ill sister, her small nephew, and all the while contend with her own epilepsy. Quite soon, Ivy realizes that her situation is simply overwhelming, and that’s where Jane Forrester, a recently-married social worker comes into play. As Jane gets increasingly involved in Ivy’s life, she learns dark truths she could have lived without, and in an age where being mentally ill meant being institutionalized, she puts it all on the line to try and save the Hart family as best she can.

Though Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain may be a fictional tale, it certainly touches on topics that were and still are very real, having broken countless peoples’ lives. In this specific case, it is dysfunctional families and the institutionalization of mentally-ill people and the rampant discrimination against them… a phenomenon which is still all too present to this very day. The book shoves us into the harsh rural lands of 1960s North Carolina from the very first pages, and the atmosphere is set for a realistic and grizzly novel, one in which we see in great detail the functioning of a rather disabled family, and the system designed to provide them with help.

Monday, November 18, 2013

“A Dirty Job” by Christopher Moore – Death’s Successor

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore – Book Cover
The story of Charlie Asher is a rather average one. He is a successful young man living with the love of his life, and he’s expecting his first child to pop out soon. One day, however, a strange phenomenon manifests itself around Charlie, and simply refuses to leave: people around him simply start to drop dead without any reason.

As the dark phenomenon explains it to Charlie, he has been recruited as a sort of death merchant, tasked with retrieving the souls of dead people by appropriating their most valued possessions. Of course, the job doesn’t come without a catch (other than all the death), as the souls happen to be quite valuable and desirable commodities for other demons, devils and whatnot, forcing Charlie to spend his working days fighting the forces of darkness all while putting stop to murderous schemes to murder his family. I present to you, A Dirty Job, by none other than Christopher Moore.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

“Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett – Rapture’s Mutiny

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett – Book Cover
The Rapture is about to come to Earth, and everything is set in position, with the Antichrist being confided into the caring hands of Crowley and Aziraphale, a demon and an angel respectively. However, what the forces of Heaven and Hell do not suspect is that across the eons, the demons and angels have gotten to know each other pretty well, and what’s more, they have come to care for the humans more than for their bosses. In other words, they aren’t exactly happy with the rapture happening in the first place, and that’s when Crowley and Aziraphale are found to have somehow misplaced the Antichrist, delaying the whole thing and basically giving their masters the finger.

Indeed, Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett is far from being your ordinary story, being akin to a grand comedy of errors and a satire which touches upon a lot of religious beliefs and popular culture. There are plenty of jabs taken at Christianity (quite understandably), just like there are many references to movies such as The Exorcist. Though it is possible that some people may be offended by it, I would urge you to remember that it is, after all, simply a comedy and not meant to be taken as gospel, or even seriously in the first place. If you hold the belief that religion is something to be always be taken with utmost seriousness and not to be joked around with, then I would urge you to steer clear of this particular novel.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Gliding Over the World of Literature – Issue 29

Greetings to all, and welcome back to Quick Book Reviews for the twenty-ninth edition of Gliding Over the World of Literature, where we always have worthwhile news from the world of arts and letters to discuss. This time we are going to start by looking at how Isaac Asimov was investigated under the suspicion of being a Soviet spy, what critics voted as being the best criminal novel ever written, and fifteen new revelations coming from the recent biography written on J.D. Salinger.

Friday, November 15, 2013

“Winners” by Danielle Steel – No Quitting in Life

Winners by Danielle Steel – Book Cover
Statistically-speaking, it is safe to say that most of us will lead rather average and relatively easy lives, always being pestered by mild inconveniences and perfectly solvable problems. However, there are also many out there to whom life gave the finger, encumbering them with greater challenges than a human can be expected to face. Though some wilt under the pressure, many find ways of thriving and making the best of their poor situation, and that’s what Winners by Danielle Steel is all about.

To give you a brief idea of the plot, it tells the story of multiple people, each one of them facing tremendous difficulties and how they manage to overcome them, in one way or another. Amongst others there is a ski champion whose hopes are crushed to the ground by a tragic accident, a scarred breast cancer survivor, and a financial manager whose career is in ruins due to betrayal. There are six of them in total, and from the desolate ruins which their lives have become they rise as phoenixes, refusing to let their destiny get the better of them.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

“The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert – An Extraordinary Family’s Journey

We may have the impression that our lives are long and full of adventure, the truth is that they are mere singular parts in comparison to the great journeys traveled by entire families throughout the centuries. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert is partly based on that concept, telling the story of the Whittaker family throughout two centuries (the 18th and 19th) and the journey they travel, going from rags to riches all while making countless extraordinary encounters and living through many historical events. During the first century, the family is led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker who started off as a poor-born Englishman, but soon became the richest man in Philadelphia through the Quinine trade.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

“S.” by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst – The Unison of the Letter

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst - Book cover
S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst presents us with a rather simple premise which nevertheless has infinite potential. In this story, brought to life by the famous silver screen personality and a very talented short story writer, we are presented with three main “actors” so to speak: Jennifer (a college senior), Eric (a disgraced grad student), and the book which connects them, Ship of Theseus, written by the peculiar and enigmatic V.M. Straka.

Though the two students have no idea the other one exists, Jennifer one day picks up the book, only to find Eric’s notes, which seemingly indicate that he is enamored with it, its world and its characters. The young lady then adds her own notes to it, and so begins a very long and thoughtful conversation between the two, all of it conducted in the margins of the book. Through it, they not only discover about each other, but also about themselves, who they might become, their passions, loves, fears and the degree of trust they are willing to give a complete stranger.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

“Life Inside the Bubble” by Dan Bongino – Behind the White House Scenes

Life Inside the Bubble by Dan Bongino – Book Cover
We, the normal folk, can only really imagine as to how things work on the higher echelons of politics, and how the decisions which guide the country are really taken. Are politicians just pushing their own agendas? Is it a power contest? A free exchange of ideas? Are they all in cahoots? The truth is that we can only keep guessing, and the more dedicated of us will simply jump on the opportunity to find out more on those rare occasions when someone from the inside goes out and tells us how it is. Dan Bongino is one such a man, being a former member of the Presidential Protective Division and having left the service in favor of a political career. In Life Inside the Bubble, Dan Bongino details his own life, going all the way from his childhood, passing by his stint with the secret service, and ending with his current political efforts.

As the book started I began to have thoughts of regret creeping in my head. Though Bongino certainly had some noteworthy events to discuss in regards to his childhood and very early career, most of the stuff found here can be classified as autobiographical anecdotes that can be entertaining, but at the end, forgettable. All of my feelings of doubt dissipated however once the part about his time in the secret service began. From there on out, we get to see the inner workings of not only the Presidential Protective Division, but also the White House politics behind closed doors. In other words, it’s as if we are taken to the world’s greatest backstage where we can get a glimpse of how things actually work on such a level.

Monday, November 11, 2013

“E-Squared” by Pam Grout – Seeing Reality

E-Squared by Pam Grout – Front book cover
Out of all the mysterious and endless topics of discussion which philosophers have touched upon over the centuries, it can be argued that determining what is true reality is one of the most interesting ones ever brought to our attention. There are countless theories as to how the world truly works and why, each one having its benefits, drawbacks and counter-arguments.

In the end, it seems that we are left with an undisputable answer and must search for it ourselves. E-Squared by Pam Grout would be best-described as an attempt to help us find that coveted truth. E-Squared is a rather peculiar book, and it was written as an attempt to help us see for ourselves that there is some sort of cosmic force in the universe that is superior to us and plays a role in guiding the flow of life. Perhaps even more intriguingly, the book promises that the knowledge found within will help us see actual proof that reality can indeed be manipulated with the help of our consciousness.

In other words, Pam Grout wants us to see that we can indeed have power over where our life goes, and that the world itself can work in our favor if we act appropriately. More concretely, the book promises to provide proof of there being an endless energy field of infinite possibilities, that we are part of it, and that we can control it in a large number of different ways. The thoughts and ideas presented here will perhaps be familiar to those who have already researched on quantum mechanics, the power of your will, imagination, intention, and so on and so forth.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

“The Lost Years” by Mary Higgins Clark – Murder Sanctified

The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark – Book Cover
With The Lost Years Mary Higgins Clark creates yet another addition to her vast repertoire of novels, and this time around she decided to try her hand at writing a serious historical crime fiction. To give you a brief idea of what it’s all about, the story follows Mariah, the daughter of a biblical scholar, Jonathan Lyons.

One day, Jonathan is found murdered in his study, with his Alzheimer’s-stricken wife hiding in the closet and holding the gun. The police are quick and eager to close this case, but Mariah knows deep inside of her that something is wrong, and that there is a bigger game being played here. More specifically, she knows it has something to do with her father’s obsession: a letter written by Jesus Christ himself and stolen from the Vatican’s Library more than six hundred years ago.

What we have with The Lost Years is, in my opinion of course, a solid murder mystery with a historical and religious context to it, one that doesn’t seek to push any boundaries in favor of providing guaranteed entertainment. The story itself is relatively straightforward and simple, for we follow Mariah linearly as she unravels the web of truth little by little. Guessing where the story will go is at times a bit too easy, and seasoned murder mystery readers will find this to be an easier challenge than other reads.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Gliding Over the World of Literature – Issue 28

Hello to everyone, and welcome back for another edition of Gliding Over the World of Literature. In this twenty-eighth iteration we are going to start off by looking into the Scottish book of the year, followed by an exploration of six books with very unexpected authors, and finish things off by seeing what John Walsh has to say on the subject of Hemingway’s mysterious suicide.

Friday, November 08, 2013

“The System” by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian – The Rise of College Football

The System by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian – Book Cover
When it comes to how popular sports are, it was always assumed, at least by most people, that casual fans are only interested in the highest professional levels, while the more hardcore fans watch a sport at lower levels as well. Perhaps this was true for a while, but with the meteoric rise in popularity college football has seen in the United States, it no longer is.

Hundreds of thousands of stadium seats are filled on Saturday college football games, with the final’s viewership only being trumped by the Super Bowl. From the outside, it would just seem like the public developed a deeper interest into what many refer to as America’s game. However, things are looking rather different from the inside, something Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian aim to show us in The System.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

“We are Water” by Wally Lamb – The Family Connection

We are Water by Wally Lamb – Front book cover
Anna Oh, mother of three and artist, has spent twenty-seven years in marriage, and has now fallen in love with a wealth art dealer by the name of Vivecca. Though it may be a bit late by some peoples’ tastes, Vivecca and Anna Oh decide to get married in her hometown of Three Rivers, Connecticut.

However, as the wedding starts the winds of change begin to blow. This rather unconventional marriage produces many mixed reactions from the family as well as the people, and what’s more, this turn of events inadvertently opened up the Oh family’s Pandora’s box, unleashing into the world all of their dreadful truths they have kept secret for so long. This is how We Are Water by Wally Lamb starts off, and it continues onwards as an exploration of how different people face the big challenges and tragedies of this life.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

“Phantom” by Jo Nesbo – Innocence Lost

Phantom by Jo Nesbo (book cover)
It seems that there is no stopping Jo Nesbo, who has penned one Harry Hole after the next, encountering great success in the process of bringing to life one of modern literature’s most recognizable detectives. Phantom is yet another chapter in Harry Hole’s legacy, this time around being centered on the death of Gusto, a local junkie, and perhaps more importantly, the man who was accused of the murder: Oleg, a boy Harry helped to raise a while ago.

Being understandably dear to him, Harry sets out on a personal investigation to find out what truly happened to Gusto and who is to blame for it. In the process, Harry is drawn into the macabre underground world of drugs, sex and violence which lurks beneath Oslo, going face to face with not only the most vile drug to hit the city’s streets, but also with numerous elements of his own past.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

“Wonder Boys” by Michael Chabon – The Thin Line Between Young and Old

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon – Front Cover
The world of literature is a complicated one to live in and navigate, mostly because one has to find his or her own direction autonomously. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon explores that world through two quite unforgettable characters. First, there is Grady Tripp, a former prodigy in the world of publishing who spends his days in a hazy cloud of marijuana trying desperately to finish his interminable second book. Alongside with him there is James Leer, a student and budding writer who is trying to make a name for himself and find his direction all while being obsessed over the idea that Hollywood is self-destructing, eventually leading to its very own demise.

If you look at the many reviews people have given Wonder Boys, then chances are that you will be compelled against reading it. It seems that a large number of readers don’t take well to his simple writing style, believing that the topics and themes Chabon discusses go over his head. Well, I am not going to say that they are all wrong (after all, who am I to make such definitive statements?), but I will say that most, if not all of them, aren’t experiencing the book the way it was meant to be. Though Chabon does use a simple writing style, it does have its benefits and its charms. Namely, his character descriptions are always very easy to understand and relate to, painting a vivid picture of all the participants in his story.

Monday, November 04, 2013

“Songs of Willow Frost” by Jamie Ford – In Search of Hope

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford (Book cover)
Hope is perhaps one of the most powerful emotions we humans are capable of feeling, for it has helped countless carry on through conditions which they couldn't logically survive. Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford touches on that subject quite heavily, as it tells the story of a twelve-year old Chinese American orphan boy living in Seattle during the depression, who one day sees a woman by the name of Willow Frost on the silver screen.

Becoming mesmerized by her abilities, the boy comes to believe that Willow is indeed his real mother, alive and well. In hopes of proving his suspicions to be reality, he escapes the orphanage with his friend Charlotte and embarks on a journey through the streets of Seattle where he not only makes many strange acquaintances, but discovers many mysterious connections from his past to the exotic movie star. Willow Frost, however, is far from what the boy expected, with her life mirroring nearly nothing from the Hollywood fantasy created around her.

The story created here by Jamie Ford is a two-pronged one in my opinion. On one hand, it aims to truthfully depict the colorful and hopeful lives of countless people, adults and children alike, who waded through the depression in search of meaning and connection. On the other hand, it is also a heartwarming adventure and meditation on the power of hope, and how it can give people the drive they need to endure anything.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

“The Redeemer” by Jo Nesbo and Don Bartlett (translator) – Gun Salvation

The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo (book cover)
Christmas is on the horizon, and inspector Harry Hole is a bit weary of all the extraordinary cases he has been on recently, meaning he is looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet, at least for once. However, it seems that the curse of all great detectives has now struck him too: rest is the last thing he will get.

During a Salvation Army concert which took place on the streets of Oslo quite innocently, the singer was mysteriously and brutally murdered for all to see by a point-blank shot to the face. Surprisingly enough, no suspect could be identified, no motive for the murder could be found, nor was the murder weapon discovered. With all of these revelatory clues at his disposal, Harry pushes onwards and quite soon finds himself going as far as Yugoslavia on his quest for the truth. However, what he doesn’t suspect is that the true evil and darkness that lurks behind the hearts of men awaits for him back is Oslo, amongst the homeless junkies, vagrants and Salvationists that have claimed the streets.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Gliding Over the World of Literature – Issue 27

Greetings to all who are reading and welcome back for yet another edition of Gliding Over the World of Literature. In this twenty-seventh edition we are going to kick things off by exploring an interesting book written by Randi Zuckerberg on the way social media affects our lives. We will keep on going with a look at an attempt to encompass the complex life of Norman Rockwell, and finish things off by learning about the many books stolen from the Palestinians by the Israeli government.

Friday, November 01, 2013

“Dear Life: Stories” by Alice Munro – The Moment of Change

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro - book cover
Life keeps on going forward, and too often we find ourselves looking behind us for moments, days, weeks, months and years even, trying to find out how we got to where we are. In other words, we often try to reconstruct our actions to find out where we have crossed the point of no return, perhaps in hope of finding at least some kind of sense in a situation that makes none.

Dear Life: Stores by Alice Munro is a collection of numerous short stories which are, in one way or another, centered on the concept of the point of no return, that one moment where things became different. These thematically-linked stories include that of a soldier who becomes emotionally isolated from his fiancée, a young teacher suddenly abandoned by her employer, a mother who is both cheating and neglecting her children, and a father whose life is torn apart by the guilt inside of him.

What can I say about Alice Munro that hasn’t been said already time and time again? She truly is a wordsmith at the pinnacle of her trade, weaving together smooth rivers of colorful and vivid words which convey exactly what she wants to, no more no less. Her sense of timing and flow are impeccable; there are no imperfections, with events always advancing at a speed that simply feels appropriate for them.