Luka and the Fire of Life is a modern day fairy tale, complete with evil monsters ( such as the Aalim) and beautiful, powerful women ( specifically, t...moreLuka and the Fire of Life is a modern day fairy tale, complete with evil monsters ( such as the Aalim) and beautiful, powerful women ( specifically, the Insultana of Ott). Rushdie does a masterful job of blending together the modern world and the traditional fairy tale, a feat that is mirrored in the character of Rashid, Luka's father and a professional storyteller, in his creation of the World of Magic. It is in this world, and not the real one where his father is dying, that Luka's adventure takes place.
The pacing of the novel is a bit slow in some spots, but moves quite quickly in others. It would appear that Rushdie allowed his fascination with the World of Magic that he created to distract him from time to time; rarely will one find a real 12-year-old who is as introspective as Luka. It does not help that there are only eight chapters. Splitting it up a bit would have made the slow spots seem less noticeable.
The novel is classified as young adult. Rushdie, however, has said that he hopes this novel“demolishes the boundary between ‘adult’ and ‘children’s’ literature.” I would say that he has done just that. Where he might have lost a younger reader in some of the mythological references or by sticking to closely to a traditional fairy tale format, he blends their world with that of the their parents by structuring the adventure as a video game, with levels to be completed and multiple lives to be lost. The blend is such that both generations are able to learn something about the other; children are given insight into the way their parents think, and parents are allowed to experience the wonder of the World of Magic in the same way their children do.
In my mind, this book is a perfect candidate for parents to read aloud to their children or vice versa. (less)
**spoiler alert** Bound is a story that takes its name from the BTK Killer, and much of the story’s action takes place in Wichita, Kansas, the killer’...more**spoiler alert** Bound is a story that takes its name from the BTK Killer, and much of the story’s action takes place in Wichita, Kansas, the killer’s hunting ground in the late 1970s. Fast forward 30 years, and he is assumed dead. To prove that he’s still there, he starts releasing information to the media, proof that he went dormant but did not disappear. The citizens of Wichita are not alone in their fascination with the tale, watching the events closely until the killer’s identity is revealed, and he is arrested. It’s an interesting story. However, it doesn’t do a lot to move along the plot of the story, so it’s not entirely clear why it’s such a recurrent theme in the story. In fact, Nelson’s attempts to keep his narrative going throughout her own seem forced. Her story is about being “bound” by the ties of friendship, by shared experiences, and by obligation. It has very little to do with a serial killer.
The story focuses on the ties that bind Catherine to Cattie, her namesake and the daughter of her best childhood friend. When Cattie's mother dies in a car accident while she is away at boarding school, Cattie thinks that she is all alone in the world. She "disappears" to avoid ending up in foster care. Meanwhile, Catherine learns that she has been named the girl's guardian and must decide how she is going to proceed. Their paths finally cross when Cattie decides to return to Houston and is found by the police a on the road not far from Wichita. Catherine, in Houston to handle Misty's estate, has her husband pick Cattie up and bring her home. The two Catherine's quickly bond. The emptiness that Cattie knew she was feeling is somewhat alleviated, and the hole that Catherine does not even know she has her in her life is filled by teenager's presence. Through their bond, they are both able to reconnect with Misty in a way that neither would have ever been able to do had she lived.
The most interesting, and most poignant, bond that forged in this story, however, has very little to do with Catherine or Cattie. When Catherine makes her trip to Houston, her husban, Oliver, agrees to visit her mother in the nursing home where she has lived since having a stroke. The two have never gotten along; Oliver is just a few years younger than Dr. Grace Harding, and she has always felt that he married her daughter so that he could have a "trophy". On this particular visit, however, they are able to bond over a virtual trip to Rome. The two adversaries are able to realize they have more in common than they would have expected.
The story is very well-written; Nelson's command of the language is unquestioned. She is more known for her short fiction, and her skill in that area is made apparent throughout the novel. Each chapter is told almost as a story in and of itself. This approach can work very effectively when the stories are only thematically related and not meant to be telling an on-going story about a set group of characters (see Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles). It is not as effective here; the different threads are meant to be woven together, but she leaves too many dangling. The beauty of the individual stories is diminished by the attempt to make them all work together.
Overall, it is a very pleasant read. In this case, however, the parts outshine the whole.(less)
The title is a bit misleading. It implies that there is a mystery to be solved. There isn't one, though. Not one that the characters are working to so...moreThe title is a bit misleading. It implies that there is a mystery to be solved. There isn't one, though. Not one that the characters are working to solve. Instead, the reader is left trying to figure out just what it is that binds all of the characters and their diverse stories together. It turns out that it is a man named Leo Metropolis.
Metropolis' case is an unusual one. He appears in the other characters' lives at moments when his guidance or assistance is needed. He makes appearances in the great opera houses of Europe and the United States when he feels the need to sing. He says little, and he does not linger. Even so, the impact that he has on the book's other characters, particularly Maria and Martin, is profound.
Gallaway alternates between the historical account of Lucien, the singer who originates the role of Tristan in the premiere of Wagner's masterpiece Tristan and Isolde, and the contemporary tales of Anna, Maria, and Martin, following each from the 1960s through the months following the attacks of September 11, 2001. He does so in such a way that the language and description are always appropriate to the time period but also accessible to the reader. Gallaway also does an excellent job of identifying with each of his characters, whether male or female, gay or straight. The reader is easily able to do the same.
Gallaway's narrative shows remarkable poise for a debut novelist. The reader does not get lost while trying to figure out which story is being told and when. Instead, they are able to get lost in the story, imagining how it will all come together in the end. In fact, had the characters been linked by nothing more than Tristan and Isolde, the novel would have been completely satisfying. Going beyond that, however, and making the opera secondary to Metropolis and his tale, elevates the novel to a place where the reader is fulfilled.
That, and he almost makes me want to see an opera. Those are words I never thought I would say.(less)
I would actually give it 3.5 stars - as a collection. Some of the individual stories would score higher.
Alyson Hagy is a skilled storyteller. Many of...moreI would actually give it 3.5 stars - as a collection. Some of the individual stories would score higher.
Alyson Hagy is a skilled storyteller. Many of the stories in Ghosts of Wyoming (Graywolf Press) feel more like the type that would be told around a campfire than put down on the page, particularly "Superstitions of the Indians." The best of the bunch is the first story in the collection, "Border". It has a more contemporary feel than the other stories, and it sets the tone for a very different collection that the one that Hagy presents. While each story is a good one in its own way, the collection lacks cohesion. A good collection of short stories is bound together by a thematic or stylistic link. Other than being set in the state of Wyoming, there is not much holding these stories together. The inclusion of the ghosts is sometimes literal, sometimes metaphorical. Each story goes off on a different track, and each is written in a different style. This inconsistency is distracting to the reader who is reading the collection from start to finish. Taken separately, however, the stories can be enjoyed for the glimpses they offer into life in Wyoming. Overall, I'm very pleased with what Hagy has to offer, and I look forward to reading more of her work. I do wish this collection had been organized a bit differently, though.(less)
**spoiler alert** In the beginning, it was a bit hard to get around the non-fiction/history feel. As I have said, and will say a million times, I don'...more**spoiler alert** In the beginning, it was a bit hard to get around the non-fiction/history feel. As I have said, and will say a million times, I don't care for non-fiction. I do make exceptions now and then. The great thing about Flaming's novel is that, while the history is there, the story takes over. I was completely wrapped up in all of it, wondering how it all came together. I think he tied up all the loose ends quite nicely. Who else would have found a way to tie Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison to the lost colony at Roanoke and bring up a discussion of string theory (though he never mentions it by name) - and do so successfully? That's quite an accomplishment.
This is one of my favorite passages:
"He [Nikola Tesla] is a virtuoso showman, dramatic and eloquent, the most sought after of all the inventors and scientists who tout their discoveries on the stages of every great city of the world. And there is a secret part of him, a part he despises, that loves the breathless attention of his audience. The thunder of applause as he strides before the curtain with electric flames shooting from his fingertips and head, brandishing his fluorescent tubes like rapiers. But at the same time, the daylight part of himself knows that these performances are base, they are low; they are acting, one rung up from prostitution." -p. 120
I was a theatre geek in another life, so this one stood out to me. I'm both amused and offended. Equally.
I had no real expectations going in (unlike those who reviewed the book upon its release). I had no reason to be let down. While I think that the organization could have used some work in the beginning, the overall story is highly enjoyable - especially for a girl who enjoys nothing more than asking the question "What if....?"(less)
I’m not sure what it is about Paris and people finding lost boxes full of people’s memories. The first time I noticed the phenomenon was in the film A...moreI’m not sure what it is about Paris and people finding lost boxes full of people’s memories. The first time I noticed the phenomenon was in the film Amelie. She locates the owner of small box she finds and returns the treasures from his boyhood to him anonymously. Author Elena Mauli Shapiro finds a box in the apartment above hers, but she has no one to return it to. Instead, she brings new life to the items found by building new memories around them.
Trevor Stratton is an American professor visiting Paris for the semester. The department secretary, Josianne, decides to tempt him with the box of artifacts that she plants in his filing cabinet. This is not the first time she has used the box to lure a visiting professor into her arms. Trevor does not take the path the lays out for him, however. He finds his own. He documents his discovery of the artifacts and the strangely intimate connection that he feels with the people whose lives are represented by the photos, letters, and objects the box contains by writing letters to a colleague, known to the reader only as “Dear Sir”. As he writes, he begins to connect each of the items with past, witnessing the events as they unfold. It becomes unclear (to both Trevor and the reader) whether his experiences are any more or less real than those of Louise Brunet, the original owner of the box of mementos.
The novel is a puzzle – one that the reader looks forward to putting together. Each piece of evidence is presented to the reader (in a full color photograph), and it is very easy to believe that the story that Shapiro has crafted to go along with each item is the real one. To think that Louise may not have been the type of woman to go to confession and shock the priests with made-up stories of her infidelities is disappointing. It is Louise’s story that takes center-stage. Both Trevor and the reader get to know her in such a way that they feel her sadness at not having children and her unexpected desire for her new neighbor. The strength of her emotions, both good and bad, is contagious. Trevor finds himself acting in ways that are against his character, and the reader is left wanting to know what comes next. Louise’s story does not come to a nice, neat ending, though. It ends as at a point that is as innocuous as where it begins. Trevor’s story is really just beginning as the reader is finally forced to put the book down.
Shapiro’s debut novel is captivating. It is obvious that she has come to love these objects and the story that she has woven around them. Including the photographs was a wise, and, I feel, necessary decision. Because the reader is able to see the items that Shapiro has so often held in her hands, they start to feel the same level of attachment, allowing a story that, in the beginning is told in fits and starts, the chance to come together. The result is a thoroughly modern tale set in a world that was just beginning to figure out what “modern” meant. It has romance, suspense, reality, and a touch of magic – things no good book should be without.(less)
Michael Crummey's Galore tells the story of Judah Devine. His name is not mentioned on every page. He does not take part in the majority of the action...moreMichael Crummey's Galore tells the story of Judah Devine. His name is not mentioned on every page. He does not take part in the majority of the action. He does little more than float along the edges of the story, only stepping forward to take the spotlight on a few occasions. But it is his story. From the moment he is cut from the whale's belly, Judah Devine becomes an integral part of Paradise Deep and the nearby Gut. Their story could not be told without him.
Judah Devine is the name they give the almost-albino man they rescued on the beach that day. His unusual appearance and the peculiar smell that clings to him initially frighten everyone, but Divine's Widow and her son Callum can sense something in him that is worth saving. They take him in, protect him from the townspeople, and eventually make him a part of the family. He becomes known as a healer, he attracts the cod to the fisherman's empty nets, and he sacrifices himself for his family. Over time his legend fades, and he all but disappears from the memory of the town - except for the pale blond hair of his great-grandson Abel. That does not lessen his impact on their lives, however. Judah lives on.
While he is the one thread that runs throughout the entire story, he is only one of the many interesting characters who inhabit this little bit of land on the coast of Newfoundland. Crummey creates a cast of characters that is entirely appropriate to the time and location, but that is also very diverse in personality and temperament. Even when the next generation seems to be a copy of the one that came before, the characters end up surprising the reader (and, I'm sure, the author himself). The novel is also an excellent chronicle of just how slowly the modern world makes an impression on an isolated community. The growing pains that they experience are typical of the rest of the world, but they are handled in a manner that is unique to the inhabitants of Paradise Deep.
Crummey, in his attempt to document such a long stretch of history for this small Newfoundland community, has put himself in what many would classify as an impossible position. He has to live up to every author who has attempted such a task and been successful before, including the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his One Hundred Years of Solitude (look around on the blog - you'll see how I feel about that book). The task did not prove to be all that impossible. Galore more than lives up to expectations.(less)
I like stories that are real. Even if the world that the characters inhabit is as far from "real" as one can imagine, I want my characters to be real....moreI like stories that are real. Even if the world that the characters inhabit is as far from "real" as one can imagine, I want my characters to be real. I want to believe that I could meet them, have an actual conversation with them, love them, or even hate them. Milly and Twiss are real. And I love them.
Milly and Twiss are the Bird Sisters, old spinster sisters who live just outside Spring Green, Wisconsin. They are known for helping to fix the injured birds that people will bring to their door. If a bird cannot be fixed, they lay it to rest in their gladiola bed. This is what they have done for the many, many years that they have lived together in their family home, alone except for each other. Over the years, the visits -and the birds - have become less frequent. Milly has become less mobile, and Twiss has become less aware. They have both become a bit obsessed with the past.
Rasmussen's novel tells the story of where they have ended up and the events that set them on that path. Those events are traced back to one summer in 1947, when money was hard to come by and innocence was easy to lose. First, their father drives the family car into the river and, as a result, loses his job as a golf pro at the local country club. Their parents' marriage is falling apart, and they have to figure out how to amuse their cousin Bett for the summer. This last task does not prove too difficult, but, as much as they love their cousin, they will turn their backs on her. It's her own fault.
Rasmussen has written a novel that fills the gap, not only in her own family history, but in that of so many of her readers. Their stories may have different settings, and the cast of characters will obviously be different, but the relationships between the characters, the types of events that they experience, will have a similar look and feel. The story of Milly and Twiss is the story of life in small town America, and the time and place dictate the way those characters behave. These stories may not have happy endings, but people appreciate the lessons that can be learned.
The Bird Sisters is a piece of Americana, and, as such, should be put on display, admired, and pulled down anytime someone wants to remember the way that things were and to dream about the way that they should be.(less)
Most 8 year old girls are uninteresting. Eleanora Cohen may seem to be just such a girl to the casual observer. That is, if they fail to pay attention...moreMost 8 year old girls are uninteresting. Eleanora Cohen may seem to be just such a girl to the casual observer. That is, if they fail to pay attention to the mysterious flock of purple hoopoes that has watched over her from birth or the fact that those birds were part of the prophecy that led two Tartar midwifes to her family's door just as her mother was ready to give birth. It quickly becomes apparent, though, to her family that she is in some way extraordinary. It is evidenced in how she is able to master reading in such a short time, the way she keeps track of figures in her head, and the novels that she pulls down from the shelf to keep her company as she reads after her dinner.
Lukas tells the story of Eleanora and how she becomes the "Oracle of Stamboul." The first part of the book, describing her childhood and how she arrives in Stamboul moves at a nice pace. It begins with an army raiding the city of Constanta, just as Eleanora's mother goes into labor. He documents her mother's death, her father's grief, and the arrival of the aunt who arrives to raise her. He shows a little girl who takes the lessons of her favorite book, The Hourglass, to heart and stows away in her father's trunk as he travels to Stamboul for business rather than spend a month alone with her aunt.
Instead of getting in trouble for what she has done, Eleanora is treated to a vacation unlike any she could have ever imagined. She is treated as royalty, spoiled by the generosity of her father's friend the Bey. Just before they are scheduled to return to Constanta, tragedy strikes, and Eleanora finds herself alone. The Bey looks after her, honoring a promise he made to her father long ago. It is at this point that the pace of the novel slows down. It is also at this point when a degree of intrigue enters the story. Unfortunately, the potential suspense that could have been built by Reverend Muehler's attempts at espionage and the Bey's secretive meetings are lost in the description of Eleanora and her profound grief at the loss of her father.
Lukas' descriptions are beautifully written, particularly those of the physical environment. For example:
"Summer slipped into Stamboul under the cover of a midday shower. It took up residence near the foundations of the Galata Bridge and drifted through the city like a stray dog."
It is passages such as this one that keep the reader engaged through the slowest portions of the narrative. The chapters that describe Eleanora's self-imposed silence are, by far, the slowest of the novel. She is lost completely in her grief, and Lukas seems to devote his efforts into making the reader feel it right along with her. He need not have tried so hard. Thankfully, the beauty of his writing carries the reader through until the moment when Eleanor rediscovers her voice. There, the pace picks up again, though it never quite flows as smoothly as it does in the early chapters. The ending may seem to be a bit abrupt, but Lukas satisfies the readers' curiosity with the epilogue that he includes.
The Oracle of Stamboul is a good read, though a bit unsatisfying in places. The plot, which is not entirely unfamiliar, is elevated by the exotic setting. The descriptions bring Stamboul to life, making the reader wish that he or she was there to experience all the wonders that the city has to offer. The precocious little girl that I used to be identifies with Eleanora and almost wishes that she had been as brave. It is perhaps this quality that appeals to me the most and makes the story shine a brighter than it might have otherwise.(less)