Sunday, December 9, 2012

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: 1979
Format: Paperback, 216 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Arthur Dent's home is about to be destroyed to make way for a new road, ironically at the exact same time the Earth is about to be destroyed to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Therefore, in the scheme of things, Arthur's house doesn't matter. Luckily for Arthur, unbeknownst to him, his best friend, Ford Prefect, is an alien and rescues Arthur by hitchhiking onto one of the ships that destroys earth. Ford is a traveling researcher for the most amazing book of all time, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Ford just happened to get stuck on earth longer than he had planned... much longer.

But now with Arthur by his side he is ready to start traveling again with his trusty towel. Of course they first must escape the Vogons, whose ship they snuck onto... and the Vogons DO NOT like Hitchhikers. Period. But improbability is on their side and they are rescued by the president of the galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, who happens to be Ford's cousin, in a new ship he has stolen with a girl Arthur met at a party once and they all get wrapped up in the question to the answer of life, the universe and everything. The answer of course being 42.

This book is one of the seminal books in fantasy and science fiction. I still remember the first time I read it the summer I graduated from high school. That year Douglas Adams and Monty Python did more to form my love of all things British and bookish than anyone or anything else. They made me who I am today, along with Red Dwarf. That being said, it's been awhile since I've read the book, in fact, I think the last time I read them all was when the movie came out (not going to get into a fight about the movie in the comments, but needless to say, I am a fan of the movie, so haters suck it), so when it became apparent that many of the members in my book club hadn't read any Douglas Adams, I felt a re-read was in order... also the fact that it was chosen as the December selection for my group.

Reading it again more than fifteen years since that summer I realized something. This is a book that you need to read in your formative years. If it isn't some of the first science fiction and comedy that is given to you to work it's way into your DNA then I don't think you'll find it that funny. When reading a book for book club, especially one that I recommended, I always try to see it from the other person's point of view... and looking at this book in that light, it wasn't that flattering. There are funny gags, bits that work, but overall there is no plot, and the characters aren't the most likable.

After you've read that last sentence you're now probably thinking I'm crazy. Why would she slam a book she loves. It's because that's how others see it. This book isn't part of them. 42 doesn't mean something special to them like it does to me. Douglas Adams is a pioneer in this field. But the thing with pioneers is that by laying the ground work, others come later and build on it and make it better and funnier. Douglas had so many amazing ideas and stories, if not for him I highly doubt Doctor Who would have evolved to where it is today, and yes, I know he wrote for them. There wouldn't have been shows like Firefly and the Apple fanbase and the Jobs worshippers have Douglas to look to as their first acolyte. Douglas Adams did so much to create the world of science fiction and fantasy that we live in today, a world that has reached so far beyond what he did, that going back to Hitchhiker's is like going back to early Apocrypha, it's a start, but nowhere near perfect.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Mary Roach's Spook

Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach
Published by: W.W. Norton and Company
Publication Date: 2005
Format: Paperback, 311 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Mary Roach is taking a look into proof of an afterlife. Many numerous people have had experiences, but is there any scientific way to give these experiences the seal of approval? The idea of what happens to, for want of a better word, your soul, has captured imaginations for centuries. The hope that there is something more beyond this world we are currently living in is the basis of many belief systems. Can one prove that they have truly been reincarnated and does a cultural predisposition for this belief lead to more cases? Does the soul have a location in our body and when it leaves does the weight of the body change on an infinitesimal scale? Mediums in every form are discussed, as are the various revolting methods in which they fooled their public. Even more modern methods of telecommunicating with the dead are explored, from telegrams to computers, tape recorders to telephones. Mary Roach explores all the possibilities, and though this is a book that no answer can be found, at least not yet, there is a chance, Mary has to concede, that she believes that something exists, she's not sure what, but it's more than a denial, and that's something.

More than most people, at least I assume that spending lots of spare time reading about Spiritualism and how your soul was weighed in Ancient Egypt isn't par for the course for most people, going into this book I had a lot of foreknowledge, as well as my own personal thoughts of the afterlife. Firstly I'll state my own beliefs, in that, yes, I do believe in ghosts, because I've seen some and been scared shitless. As for the whole heaven, I think heaven is reincarnation, in that life is the most wonderful thing out there so heaven would be getting to live again. Also the fact that I have an unnatural fear of dust storms and I have no other explanation as to why they scar the shit out of me. Purgatory, yep, totally believe in it and think that it's like in Beetlejuice. I do agree with Mary's statement that your knowledge or beliefs are formed from those around you, and my Dad was a big teller of ghost stories, but being raised Catholic he had the heaven and hell dogma, whereas mine came from my own thoughts and conclusions.

So yeah, I have all my own baggage, on top of the fact that the whole Spiritualism craze is just fascinating to me and I have spent tons of time reading about Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini and the Cottingley Fairies. Therefore, going in, I was expecting some new insight, some revelation, something more than an occasional laugh out loud moment. I will concede, there where laugh out loud moments, one in particular about a sheep, but that's just me and my love of sheep jokes. The truth might lie in the fact that I'm not a non-fiction reader and I think one of my problems is that I need some sort of narrative framework. I need this to be somehow bookended so that I don't feel like I'm reading little sound bites that only vaguely fit into the overall theme. I was hoping for, at the very least, some more background, some more depth. Roach sometimes assumes that people will know what she's talking about when there really needs to be some prior knowledge or facts given, she seems more interested in getting to the joke or the oddity or rapidly ending the chapter than shedding light. This makes the book jumpy to me. Why not some more cultural significance and history as to the search for the soul and how this played into our cultures instead of little stories about a few people she interviewed or researched. She seemed to have narrowed her focus too much so that the bigger picture was lost.

As I have said, people have always wondered about the afterlife, and she does hit the big bold headlines, past lives, Spiritualism, mediums, phone calls from the dead, yet she never seems to discuss the why. Why are people so obsessed with this. Why are we so determined to prove that there is more than this. A psychological grounding to the rise of Spiritualism should be conveyed in depth in my mind instead of a throw away line about The Great War's death toll leading to people looking for life beyond the veil. Instead she focuses on the gory details of ectoplasm, which I think might have scared me for life. There is just so much more that I was hoping to experience and instead, this was like a primer for someone who knew nothing about the various theories and research on the afterlife and just wanted to have fun facts or anecdotes for dinner parties. Perhaps I should have realized that the books popularity is because of it's accessibly versus a weightier discussion of the afterlife.

What really annoyed me though is that where Roach deigns to have a narrative, the book flows and comes together, and moves away from it's fact jumping nature that gives you names and humorous stories so fast that you don't care what is being said and you start to gloss over the names. Her discussion of actually going to Medium School was wonderful and way too short. In fact, the school itself could have acted as a framework for the other ideas and theories to flow through. All in all, it was an interesting book that just wasn't my cup of tea because I wanted something more, and also, sometimes Roach's attitude was too much for me when she showed a lack of respect. There's humor and than there's being rude and blowing someone off. I think Mary Roach didn't like Alison DuBois one little bit, and that stuck in my craw.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Published by: Library of America
Publication Date: 1962
Format: Hardcover, 832 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

"Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you'll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!"

Mary Katherine Blackwood, called Merricat, and her sister Constance, have lived their life for the past six years shut away from the world caring for their Uncle Julian. Their only other companion is Merricat's cat Jonas. Merricat is the only one ever to leave the house, on Tuesdays and Fridays, which are bad days. As she walks to the store she can feel the eyes watching her. A good tip into town is one with minimal contact with the outside world, a bad trip is one that ends in taunting. The three remaining Blackwoods have been beyond the bounds of society behind the fence that Constance and Merricat's father erected before that fateful and fatal dinner. Constance was arrested six years ago because she was the only one who didn't use the sugar laced with the cyanide. Constance was the only one to survive that dinner without any aftereffects... Julian survived, but he was never able to walk again and his mind wanders, though that night never leaves him. Julian is dedicating what remains of his life to recount that final day. The day when he lost four of his family members, one of them his wife.

The aftermath of Constance's acquittal, despite everyone believing in her guilt, was that she shut out the world. Connie never ventures past her garden anymore. She spends her time cooking and looking after her two charges, keeping the world locked out. Merricat is just as paranoid of others as Constance, but she has buried treasure and symbolic items scattered throughout their land in a type of rustic magic to ward off everyone. One day she finds that her wards have failed and at that moment there is a knock on the door. Their cousin Charles has arrived. His branch of the Blackwoods severed all connections at the time of the trial, not even willing to take Merricat in, that night she was sent to bed without dinner and though it saved her life, it meant she was banished to an orphanage for a time. Charles does not have the best of intentions. He is avaricious, only seeing the money in everything and in his alliance with Connie, Julian and Merricat are just obstacles to move out of his way, nothing more. But Merricat won't go down without a fight. She has a feeling that it will be her left in the house with Constance, not Charles. Charles should remember, bad things have been known to happen to members of the Blackwood family.

This book is the most terrifying and accurate story of paranoia I think I have ever read. There's a part of me that is very antisocial and would rather be left to my books. I have easily gone a week without leaving the house and I can see some things in Merricat that I can relate to in her OCD behaviours. Yet, I find that this book has kind of cured me of all those feelings, at least on a cognitive level. All paranoia and agoraphobia has to face the test of implementation. It's all well and good to think you're ok, but you never know though until you try. Constance does try, but such a man as Charles as her "saviour" could never work, I was hoping he might go the way of the previous Blackwood, though more painfully, and Constance has Merricat. Merricat is 18 in this book, yet her behaviour is more like that of a 12 year old, her emotional development and well being stunted when the poisoning happened. Constance wonders if she was right to shut Merricat away from the world, but it seems to me a mutual decision. Merricat, despite being more willing to leave the house, is really suffering more, and very much a sociopath. She has far more rituals and dark thoughts than Constance ever had. There is the rigid schedule to maintain, there are the coins buried in the river bank, the doll under the rock, the blue marbles, and the book that was nailed to the tree. Even when Merricat isn't checking on them her thoughts dwell on the powers these items give her, the layer of protection she has. Like a person who has to turn the light on and off so many times before leaving, Merricat's life is built around these rituals that have evolved around her to protect the two sisters, who, despite everything, deeply love each other.

Yet, while their isolation from the world seems odd and haunting, it is not without cause. The villagers, more than the crime, made them what they are, or at least exacerbated the situation enough to cause them to turn inward. Coming to the house, taunting, cat calling, daring each other to go to the house where everyone died. Asking Connie to come out so they can see what a mass murderer looks like. "Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?" Childish glee in their hatred of the hoity-toity and reclusive sisters is evident in the villagers. At the end of the book, when the villagers have to reluctantly help the sisters, they take the opportunity to unleash their "everyday evil." Because the poisoning only hurt the immediate family, while the bile that is brewing in the town has far greater scope. The mob mentality of people who appear normal is a far scarier thing than two agoraphobic girls peering through slits in the windows at a life they will never have nor want.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Published by: Harvill Secker
Publication Date: September 15th, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 387 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Celia and Marco have been bound to each other long before they knew of the other. Two men have pitted them against each other. The man in the grey suit picked Marco out of an orphanage, while the magician Prospero chose his own daughter. For years they study and train in solitude what people who don't know better would call magic. They don't know the rules or how a winner will be chosen, yet one day, they finally learn the venue, a circus will be their battleground. Not just any circus! This circus is what Merlin is to a stage magician and his mechanical apparatus. Only the preeminent performers are chosen to live in a world of black and white. To travel the world as a member of Le Cirque des Rêves. Celia travels with the circus as their illusionist, hiding in plain sight, as it where. Because no one could believe what she does is real. Marco prefers to work behind the scenes as the assistant to the proprietor, Chandresh. Marco knows from the first time he sees her that Celia is his opponent, while Celia, for the longest time, is only responding to his moves, not knowing her opponent.

As time moves forward, Celia and Marco become less certain of their objectives, being drawn more and more towards each other. The lives of others are also at stake as they are unwittingly drawn into the game. While the circus was created for the express purpose of the game, it has become something more. Following the circus is becoming a way of life for many people who have coined themselves rêveurs. When the game is done the circus will have served it's initial purpose, but Celia and Marco realize that it needs to go on. They will not be the ones to do this, so someone must be chosen. Someone who is a dreamer, who can balance the opposing forces of chaos and order that the challenge embraces. It is all a matter of timing.

For the longest time I have been unable, or unwilling to write a review of this book. I just can't think of anything to say that would do this book justice. Saying it was the best book I have read in years  might give you some indication, as would the fact that almost everyone I have recommended it to has loved it, but again, that is subjective. Though none of that covers the why I love this book so much. My words can never say what I want them to say, so I will use Moregenstern's own words.

"It is important... When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There's magic in that. It's in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words...There are many kinds of magic, after all."

This book, for me, was pure magic and has taken up residence in my soul. It transported me to a world of black and white stripped tents, apple orchards that Louisa Mat Alcott might have written about in Little Women, fall nights going to fairs when they where still magical. This book bottled the memories of what wonder is, much as Widget would, and gave it back to me. Like The Prestige, but with a Tim Burton/Edward Gorey slant and star crossed lovers and hopes and dreams. Everything combines together to make magic. Just go read it and maybe by the time you are done I can articulate my feelings, but my writers block is much like the inability to remember a dream upon waking, you only are left with that wonderful glow.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Published by: Picador USA
Publication Date: 2002
Format: Paperback, 529 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Cal was born Callie. There was no surgery, there was no accident. There was just a fluke of genes and a lack of knowledge. Cal tells us his story. The journey from female to male. The fact that being a hermaphrodite, while he has male genes, being raised female, has influenced him greatly, but not as greatly as he told the eminent Dr. Luce. Yet, to tell his tale, we must travel back in time. How was he formed? What where the confluence of genes that led to him. Desdemona and her brother Lefty, his paternal grandparents. They fled Greece in the onslaught of the Turkish. They also fled the fact that they where siblings, as well as third cousins. It was a very small village they came from, a village where sometimes, babies where born who where neither one thing or another.

Resettling in Detroit, they started a new life with their cousin Lina and her husband of convenience Zizmo. Lina likes the girls rather more than the boys, so is quite shocked when she and Desdemona both become pregnant, damn that arousing play they went to see. These two children will one day be Cal's parents. Spanning generations, the book shows how hard it is to live between two worlds. Male and female, Greek and American, child and adult. Is it genes that make us, environment, or something else entirely? Is it our choice?

I can see why this book won the Pulitzer. It's really well written, thought provoking, and an interesting and daring subject (hello again incest! You thought I was going to say hermaphrodite didn't you?), and literally made for book club dissection, which I will be doing. Yet, while enjoying the read, I never really felt that invested in the book or that enamoured of the characters. Middlesex is really at least six books in one; memoir, historical fiction, romance, coming of age, disillusioned youth, drifter in the vein of Holden Caulfield, and finally a weird John Waters Midnight Cowboy camp mash-up worthy of David Lynch.

The generational structure, which was necessary, because it showed how Callie became Cal, had the downside of me growing to really care about a character only to have Eugenides speed up the narrative and push them aside for the newer character to take the stage. He also had the tendency to not only marginalize the previous characters, but to demonize them in some fashion. Lefty and Desdemona's taboo love was turned sour, Milton and Tessie and their budding romance, turned into upper middle class boredom. While it shows that, indeed, life goes on and changes, it changed my feelings so much over the course of the narrative, that I began to marginalize the characters in my own mind before the author did it for me. We even seemed to be in sync when Dr. Luce came around, because after all that build up, he was there marginally for two weeks and then gone. With trying to cover so much historical ground, I hate to say this because I felt this book was overly long anyway and spent most of it's time stringing us along, but he should have made it an even bigger epic, so that the rush to end a tale and begin another tale was omitted and we could still care for those we had been previously reading about. Shift the focus, don't eliminate the previous characters as much. And don't put Desdemona in the guest house and only remember her after 100 pages to add a nice cyclical feeling at the end.

Other things that bothered me where quite nit-picky. Sometimes the language was overly written, this superfluous verbosity made me want to smack Eugenides from time to time, just as you probably wanted to do to me for using the phrase superfluous verbosity. This tendency in fact reminded me very much of Michael Chabon's The Final Solution, wherein I felt that Chabon wrote the book with a thesaurus full of obscure words just to drive me slightly insane. While Eugenides doesn't reach Cabon's heights of undesirable loquaciousness, he did have me shaking my fist and looking for a dictionary every once in a while.

Eugenides has a deft hand for humor, often leading to me laughing out loud, but occasionally he took the humor too far and it became a parody that didn't work. For example, the midnight car chase, started out funny, with it basically being the most sedate car chase ever, but then, it went over the top, and almost became a scene from one of Matt Damon's Bourne movies, but with an odd out-of-body coda. This, this was too much. As was the peep show in San Francisco. I'm not saying that this didn't work, I'm saying, it was more John Waters or David Lynch than any other part of the book and therefore did not feel like it was a part of this book.

String us along for hundreds of pages, at least Eugenides delivered where it mattered most. Callie. While parts of "her" own story I didn't like, such as the lecherous older men when she was younger and her slightly pervy brother, once she became a teenager the book soared. All teenagers have the feeling that something is wrong with them, that they are different. While, with Callie, this is indeed the case, it was still a struggle anyone can identify with, we didn't all start out as adults. The feelings for the Obscure Object, could be any crush or first love. But what I was really struck by was how well a male writer could capture the beginning of womanhood, to use a cliched phrase. All girls go through the waiting game of when they will start to develop. When will they need a bra, when can they start shaving, when do they need deodorant. When will they start to menstruate. In Callie's case, it is a futile waiting game, yet it's the fact that "she" doesn't know that it's futile like we readers do, that makes it that much more poignant. For me it recaptured that time in my life. I felt all these emotions that I had forgotten about all over again. For me it took me back to the summer of 1991 and how my golden birthday was ruined by the arrival of the bane of womanhood. Yet this book made me grateful. Made me realize how lucky I was. Middlesex cast a golden light on my own development and made me happy that I could re-experience that time in my life. Recapture the uncertainty and, like Callie when she becomes Cal, know the feeling of what it's like to realize who you are and start on the path to becoming who you will be.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Published by: Starscape
Publication Date: 1985
Format: Paperback, 324 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Ender Wiggin is the shame of his family. He is a Third. On an Earth where the population is still reeling countless years later from the last alien "Bugger" invasion, children are limited to two... unless there is a government mandate or the parents live outside the laws of decency. Ender was government mandated. In order to save humanity, the government has decided that children who are gifted should be trained to be their saviours. Ender's siblings, Peter and Valentine, both showed potential as being the most gifted children ever to be monitored for training. Yet Peter's violence and Valentine's empathy ultimately doomed them to a life on Earth. Still, the potential was so great that Ender Wiggin was "commissioned."

Ender has spent years being monitored to see if he would fulfil the potential of his siblings. Despite appearances to the contrary, the government decides that Ender is indeed their ideal savior. Yet, in order to achieve this end result, the rules will be broken. Battle School has been run in a space station orbiting Earth and training the youths in a very set curriculum of schoolwork and mock battles. Divided into armies and platoons, the students fight each other in a safe environment to hone their skills that will be used against the Buggers. When Ender arrives, all the rules are changed. By isolating Ender and promoting him beyond his age group, they hope to create the greatest military mind the universe has ever seen. He is a tactical genius, thinking outside the box and is able to embrace concepts that other students can't even understand on the most rudimentary level.

Soon Ender is promoted out of Battle School before even reaching his teens and sent out to the far reaches of the galaxy to Command School, where he is trained by the greatest military mind ever, before him that is. Put in a simulator, Ender is virtually learning how to control a fleet and fellow commanders who must answer to him. Yet, deep in his mind he starts to question if the Buggers are the real threat. While back on Earth, his siblings might pose a far greater threat because they have realized something that Ender has only guessed at. They are spurned geniuses, and they have the world at their feet.

A space age Lord of the Flies, a tale of justified violence and uncompromising brutality. This are the criticisms that are often written about this book. Yet... this was not what bothered me. Growing up when I have, the world around me has desensitized me to violence. Not to say that I didn't consider this book violent, I just considered that to be the least of it's flaws. I have never read a book by Orson Scott Card previously, nor will I ever again. While many believe this book to be the pinnacle of science fiction, I personally was left, not only scratching my head, but with the taste of bile in my mouth.

If not for the fact that this was for my book club I would not have finished it. If Card isn't spewing hatred, he is plodding along with his mind numbingly boring plot. This book is very much a battle movie, in that, you can see Michael Bay loving getting to set children into combat with lots of gore and death. This did not make for a good book. Moving past the fact that it is badly written, you really have to give me this, it's clunky, awkward and the little "omniscient narrations" before each chapter where laughable, the language and hatred that spilled out of the book just shocked me. The racism and bigotry floored me. I don't believe in censorship or taking away free speech. But the fact that there are children out there reading this book and thinking this language is acceptable, chills me to the marrow of my bones. From homophobic slurs against a little boy Shen, who comes to be called worm because of his effeminate walk, to racial anti-Semitic language used against Ender's first army leader because he is Jewish, and not only that, having Rose himself "self deprecatingly" joke about it himself shows even more that it's acceptable to children who don't know better! The book just compounds hatred and bile into this big mess that I wanted to fling out the window.

For many years I have tried to come to grips with the fact you sometimes have to separate the artist from their art. A beautiful painting might have been painted by a horrible bigot. A classic of literature might have been written by a pervert, ie, the Lewis Carroll/J.M. Barrie conundrum. Yet this is impossible when the views and opinions of the author are so a part of the text that they are inescapable. After a few chapters I realized that Orson Scott Card must be one of the biggest homophobes the world has seen. Therefore I did some goodreads trawling. Going past all my friends who mysterious loved this book (they are going to have a lot to answer for at book club!) I went to those reviews who gave the book a star. Or as I call these reviewers, "my people." There a found a link to an online article where he railed against homosexuality saying that homosexuals are allowed to marry, so long as they marry the opposite sex, not where their heart lies. Not that Card believes that homosexuals have hearts... because "the dark secret of homosexual society -- the one that dares not speak its name -- is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally." WHAT!?!

Card, you can believe what you want to believe, just like anyone who is reading my blog can, just, don't do it around me. I'm not trying to preach here or anything. I was raised to believe in love. But to spew this bile and not be called out on it. To be lauded with awards for this hate spewing work? You have an amazing mind, you where able to envision how technology would evolve. In the eighties, you saw the rise of the Internet, the rise of bloggers like me and the power we would have. You saw children working on desks that are quite literally our tablets, such as the iPad. You pre-saged all this amazing technology, yet your belief system lives in the dark ages. I'm calling you out on it. Hopefully one day people will realize that your book is nothing more than a platform for your hate.

*If you would care to read the full article referenced above, it can be found here. I will warn you though that it has many inflammatory opinions, none of which I hold with.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Miss Eliza's Book Review - M.J. Rose's The Reincarnationist

The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose
Published by: Mira
Publication Date: January 1st, 2007
Format: Paperback, 449 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Josh Ryder has been having weird spells ever since he survived a terrorist attack in Rome. He keeps slipping into the past, into what could only, logically, be his past lives. There is too much detail for any doubt to exist. He has sought out help from The Phoenix Foundation, who specialize in helping children understand their dreams which aren't really dreams but past life regressions. Malachai and his aunt take Josh on because he has such clear visions, one of them involving their building. A discovery in Rome sends Josh back there with Malachai. A Professor Rudolfo and his assistant Gabriella have uncovered an unknown tomb. Malachai and Josh hope that not only will this discovery help Josh, but perhaps will shed light on the mysterious memory stones, stones said to allow you to see all your past lives.

Josh is so haunted by his past that in a daze he wanders for miles till he stumbles on Professor Rudolfo's site hours before their meeting. There he finds Sabina... or the well preserved corpse of Sabina, his true love back when he was Julius, all those hundreds of years ago. Tragedy strikes the tomb again and Rudolfo is killed. Josh is arrested as the primary suspect but soon is released. While his time in Italy is at an end, the memory of Sabina still stirs him. He will find the answer one way or another. Back in New York he connects with Rudolfo's assistant Gabriella. Josh feels drawn to her, was she Sabina in a past life? Soon their knowledge of the memory stones lead to the kidnapping of Gabriella's daughter Quinn. If Josh and Gabriella can't solve the mystery that has baffled people for centuries, Quinn might die.

Part Indiana Jones, but more Da Vinci Code without any kind of narrative drive, this book was a struggle to get through. If I hadn't thrown out my back and been immobile, I don't think I would have finished it. Besides having the hardest title of a book to ever say, I dare you, try to say it out loud, this book left too many lose ends and me saying "well, that happened." While I don't look favorably on books like The Da Vinci Code, at least Dan Brown kept the urgency, kept the plot moving. For something so dire, for a race against the clock, the pace of the book was quite languid. Not to mention, the sub plot with Rachel and her Uncle Alex being so secondary until the end was pointless, hence eliminating them from the synopsis. Use them throughout OR don't introduce them till you need them. They felt like they where thrown on stage three acts before they where needed. I also felt that Josh's jumps into the past a little too cliche. "He smelt Sandalwood and Jasmine" now he gets a giant erection and can only dream of the dead girl. I kid you not, the biggest sex scene in this book, and there are a few, are between Josh, aka Julius, and the memory of Sabina, while in the shower.

If the story had remained in Italy, perhaps there would have been a better chance to connect with the narrative. But once they left Italy, I really couldn't care less. Then the fact she brings out the kidnapping trope... ug, just no. I will give her credit that in the last page she did give a little bit of a game changer, which was nice, but I knew who the bad guy was from the beginning, and all your running around and adding plots on plots and more and more stupid characters will not take away from the obviousness of everything. Again, a book not finished by the majority of my book club... but sub par writing with one too many cliches will do that, and, if the writer can't be bothered to finish the story and tie up the loose ends, the memory stones, etc, then why should a reader be bothered with finishing it? Also, nothing pisses me off more than an obvious lack of understanding something. M.J. Rose obviously doesn't understand that a yard is equal to three feet. He was so close, only 3 yards away... dood, that's not that close if you're in a tunnel and trying to get out. Also, if you are interested in something good about reincarnation, rent Dead Again and be done with it, don't read this book.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Miss Eliza's Book Review - Cheryl Strayed's Wild

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Published by: Knopf
Publication Date: March 20th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 315 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Cheryl Strayed had a tough yet somewhat idyllic upbringing in Minnesota. Her two siblings and her and their mom and her stepfather and a little plot of land to call their own in the far north. In Cheryl's final semester of school her mother got Cancer and died. Cheryl's life spun wildly out of control. She not only lost her mother, but her connection to her siblings, her step-father and finally her husband divorced her. A combination of grief, promiscuity and drugs will do that. Cheryl latched onto this idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail through California to Oregon as some sort of penance. Once she did this her life would be ready to get on track. She could maybe finish college, kick heroin, leave behind the countless men and the abortion she had and start anew. The PCT was going to be her salvation. A hard trek over dangerous terrain, where bears, foxes, wolves and snow would all be encountered. She thought she was ready for it, but the trail challenged her in ways she didn't expect.

Firstly she packed way too much, her backpack being affectionately called monster. Her shoes where to small and she wasn't keeping the pace she had expected too. Soon she had to result to detours to avoid all the areas of the Trail that where snowed in. She went through many hardships of not having enough money on her detours, having not expected to encounter them. But on the trail and at the rest stops, she became friends with other hikers in the close knit community of the PCT. All the while, as her feet marked mile after mile, she thought about all that had happened to get her here. The husband she let go, her mother's horse that she had to put down, how she was headed nowhere but the next mile and the next mile. Yet all would be worth it once she reached the Bridge of the Gods and her journey was over, minus most of her toenails.

I am not a non-fiction reader. If I read non-fiction it has most likely been for school or because it was some funny celebrity memoir. This wasn't either. This was a book club pick, thankfully picked before Oprah, I will not go into this now, but me and Oprah, we have issues. Wild was interesting in that I hate Cheryl, I really truly hate her, yet I was compelled to keep reading. She is not a nice person, at least that's what I feel like having read the book, and, I'm sorry, but if you're not likable in your autobiography, then you're probably not likable. She has too many self esteem issues. Not only is she promiscuous, be she truly believes that every man she encounters wants her. So much of her journey seems to be getting herself away from the world of temptation, that when she does hook up at what was originally going to be her final destination, the "romance" of the moment is lost in the, "you dumb bitch, not again" that was coming from my mouth. Also, as to her heroin addiction... um, heroin isn't that easy to kick. I'm injecting today, tomorrow I'll be on the trail and not feel any signs of withdrawal. Ok Cheryl, sure.

Also, this is a book about her hike around these beautiful panoramas and vistas, a journey where she clearly states she has a camera... why are there no pictures? Not a one! Is it because all the men reading it would want her? Now just to start piling on the things that pissed me off, I should mention that there where people in my book club who hated her so much they didn't bother to finish the book. Let's start with Cheryl's last name. When I read that her last name was "Strayed" I was like, that has got to be some lame pretentious made up name... yes and no. She made it up, but it's legally hers. What kind of writer is so pretentious as to pick strayed as their name? Gah, just, gah. Then, why this book now? I mean, this happened when I was in high school. The whole book felt dated. The references to OJ Simpson and Jerry Garcia... did you really need money so bad that you finally wrote this book? Also, her upbringing I think made it easier to adjust to trail life, she didn't have running water for years in Minnesota, so she doesn't really cover her upbringing as being trail compatible. The ending felt rushed. I mean, total in depth detail all the way to the Oregon border and then Oregon was over, woosh.

Yet none of this, not one single thing made me hate the book as to what she did with some of her mothers ashes, even the toenails didn't do it. She found a nice big bone chip and ate it! That's right, she ate her mother. This wasn't a metaphor, this was gross reality. All I kept thinking was that her thinking of "now my mother will always be with me" was so flawed, because, now, you are going to shit out your mother. Some of your mother will be down a pipe somewhere after you fucked someone or shot up, and your mother will be there. I was so revolted that if I hadn't decided I hated her already, this would have pushed me over the edge, it brought the book down a full star as it stands. Just icky! This whole book could have been better served as a series of short stories where her mother eating tendencies where left out.

A final note to Knopf. An istock picture ISN'T A COVER! All you did was cut out the other boot, with a bad clipping path I might add if you look closely at the cover. Sure, these look like her description of her boots, but couldn't you have taken your own picture? Or how about a picture of Cheryl on the PCT as the cover? How about any kind of originality of any kind please!?!


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