Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: Sway

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Amber McRee Turner - ©2012

Sway is a story about a ten-year-old girl, Cass, whose mother falls from a hero’s pedestal and lands right in a steaming pile of lies and adultery. Confused and hurt, Cass blames her father for pushing her off that pedestal.

Together, Cass and her father embark on a journey in a RV he bought from National Lampoon's Cousin Eddie, dubbed The Roast, through the American South to bequeath upon the citizens of towns with an old shoe-marked off ramp, the magic of Sway. Step right up, grab a sliver of soap, emblazoned with the initials of the historical figure, lather up and absorb the former owner's best qualities.

Through their adventures changing the lives of others, Cass realized that the hero she needed was the one who, “...snags a ten-year-old’s favorite pajamas because you’re there to tuck her in every night with your calloused hands.”

A lovely story full of lively southern flavor and character. Uplifting and simple—a pleasurable read.

Book Review: Nineteen Eighty-Four

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George Orwell - ©1949

This is the most alarming book I have ever read.

 I was moved by Farenheit 451, another dystopian novel, but it didn't rattle me like 1984. I now can see why it has left such an indelible mark on our culture. Big Brother is watching, Newsspeak, Ingsoc, doublethink… *shudder*

The structure of this possible 1984 makes the most sense as a vector from war weary 1940's England. Orwell writes about the never ending wars with continuous bombing, the citizenry being required to hate the enemy, the Ministry of Information (which spreads dis-information), Ministry of Plenty (which controls food rationing), ration cards, revolutions gone bad, people being punished for spreading anti-war messages. I think Orwell’s invention, Ingsoc (English socialism), is a derivative of the terrifying result of failure of the Russian revolution. All these things were heavy on the minds of the populace during that time.

I'll never hear the phrase "Big Brother is Watching" with the same indifference. Invasions of privacy didn't bother me because I never felt I was doing anything worthy of attention. Amy has purchased diapers and cat litter twice this month and receives regular calls from her husband at eleven in the morning. Snooze-fest right? But, what if my life was suddenly objectionable to a the government and all of the ways I've accepted invitations to peer into my privacy could be used against me? What I've watched on Netflix, what books I've downloaded from B&N using my membership. What states I've bought gas from on my credit card. My posts on Facebook and pictures I've uploaded. Book reviews I've posted—like this one? What if I don't hate our "enemies” enough? What if I don't like something the president said? What if all of this data could be aggregated by a super algorithm and my fate was decided by the output?

In Orwell's 1984, those guilty of thoughtcrime, perhaps your face twitches into an expression deemed unorthodox, were collected by the Thought Police and left in the tender embrace of the Ministry of Love. Wherein lies the secret of Room 101 and the Inner Party.

The sole desire of those in power is to keep it.

Never before has the right to free speech and privacy seemed more precious.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book Review: The Three Musketeers

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Alexandre Dumas - ©1844
As a person who read The Count of Monte Cristo twice, I was ready to devour this book and have The Man in the Iron Mask for dessert.

The story started out strong. D’Artagnan is an honorable fellow from the French back-woods of Gascony, riding his half-dead yellow nag across country to Paris in hopes of joining the venerated Musketeers of King Louis XIII. On his first day in Paris he manages to get in a duel with each of the legendary Three Musketeers. The Three Musketeers show up to second each other during their respective duels. They soon join forces to fight off the guardsmen of the villainous Cardinal Richelieu who are attempting to arrest them for illegal dueling. Together the four men bested five of the Cardinal's guard; uniting them as brothers.

Yes, loving this so far! Then things get weak for about 700 pages.

It was too much like a theatrical play where the drama is over played. This kind of thing: For this insult, I will avenge my honor—to the death!! Also, D’Artagnan burned with all consuming love for Mme. Bonacieux then shortly after she was captured by the Cardinal's forces, he burned with love for the villain, Milady; ill using her handmaiden to get to her. These romantic endeavors and intrigues go on and on. Blah.

I thought the Three Musketeers would be more about—The Three Musketeers! Athos, Porthos and Aramis—all for one and one for ALL! Sadly, these guys only pop in now and again to liven things up. I thought there’d be tight plots and subplots, with more action.

I had no idea that d’Artagnan was the main character.  Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the sub-title “Book One of the d’Artagnan Romances”.  So what's so bad about d'Artagnan? You ask.  Excellent question, I was just getting to that.  Aside from the fact he has a name that is annoying to type, D'Artagnan suffers from perfect character disease.  A vicious disease attacking the character's depth and rendering the afflicted unlikable by imperfect people such as myself.  D'Artagnan is a great guy, he's handsome, young, an amazing fighter, compassionate, suave with the ladies, loyal, earnest—he's perfect—perfectly boring.  Perfect characters are for NY Yankee fans.

Another problem was that this book was originally written as a serial novel. I had the same issue with The Tale of Two Cities. I think of 19th century serials as today’s television series. Imagine sitting down to watch a movie and putting in Downton Abbey; with the expectation of getting one cohesive story. It’s frustrating. The twist and turns later in the story don't really relate as well as they should to earlier parts of the story and it goes on and on and on. Had I read this story one episode at a time, eagerly awaiting next week's episode, I would have liked it more…

BUT somewhere in the last one-third of the book the villain extraordinaire, Milady, is captured. Then Dumas' stellar writing returns, complete with his ingenious plots. I flashed through the rest of the book and it ended in a most satisfying way. He tied up all disparate story-lines with excellent plot twists, action, and brilliant character revelations—and best of all—d’Artagnan was hardly there. The book ended leaving me wishing there was more. In a book of over 1700 pages, this is saying something. I’m glad I slogged through the 700 or so pages of d’Artagnan mire. The payoff was worth it.


There is another d’Artagnan romance novel between this one and the one that contains The Man in the Iron Mask—I’m leary. If it were less a d’Artangan romance and more Athos, Porthos and Aramis, I’d dive in. What to do? What to do?? I could skip it and jump to the story I want, but then I might miss nuances in the later story, and I hate missing nuances… The brilliance of a story is in the nuances, particularly when written by one such as Dumas...