A recent discussion in one of my groups rekindled my interest in the several plays I studied in high school, all of which made enough of an impressionA recent discussion in one of my groups rekindled my interest in the several plays I studied in high school, all of which made enough of an impression on me that I haven't forgotten them to this day. This was one of those, written by the author of Peter Pan (which I've never read; but like virtually everyone else, I'm familiar enough with the pop culture figure!) --but this is a very different, and more adult, sort of play than the more famous one.
Here, our setting is the real world: the staid and stately "civilized" world of Edwardian upper-crust London, and the rough, challenging natural world of an uncharted Pacific island. We might describe it as Downton Abbey meets Gilligan's Island; but though this is a comedy (and much of it actually is downright hilarious), it's much more realistic and serious in its ultimate intent than the latter, and its humor is a lot more mordant and caustic than anything offered on either of those shows. The above description is basically spoilerish; but it's hard to discuss or review this play without some spoilers.
The England of 1902 was a profoundly class-conscious society, with a hereditary aristocracy and gentry who saw their traditional position of power and privilege as a natural order that rewarded their superior merit, supported and waited on by a lower class born into servitude and socialized to accept it. For over 100 years, this social order had been increasingly challenged, within and without, by a philosophy of egalitarianism, of social leveling and equality. Barrie sets the two mindsets in conscious opposition to each other --and finds both of them wanting. His message is, in part, that humans aren't equal in their abilities or moral qualities; that some people really ARE superior to their fellows, and naturally better fitted for leadership. BUT, this has nothing essentially to do with hereditary social position; natural aristocrats are such because of who they are as people, not because of what rank their parents happened to have. So, a butler may be an intelligent born leader with genuine character; a peer or a "gentleman" may be a worthless, self-serving lout. It's not necessarily insignificant that Barrie was Sir James Barrie, baronet (baronetcy being the only hereditary form of knighthood in England) --but the first baronet of his line, being the son of a humble weaver.
Barrie delivers this message through an original, well-crafted plot with wonderfully drawn, compelling characters, realized with a very fine discernment of all types of human personalities and a bitingly satirical sense of humor. And like all writers of really great literature, he calls on his title character to make a serious and costly moral decision.
Not long after reading this play, I was privileged to watch a well done performance of it on PBS. It's well worth seeing performed; and like most plays, it gains something from being experienced that way. But unlike most, it also loses something significant; where stage directions and setting notes are usually brief and strictly functional, there to guide the director and cast without being read by the audience, Barrie's are often long, extremely witty, and contain a good deal of worthwhile information that's not imparted in the actual performance. This can be said to be a play that's actually better appreciated by being read than being seen, if you have to choose!...more
E-books aren't my preferred format for reading, and I don't purchase them; but I was graciously given a free review e-copy of this second series instaE-books aren't my preferred format for reading, and I don't purchase them; but I was graciously given a free review e-copy of this second series installment by the author, with no strings attached. As in the case of the first one, the electronic format didn't keep me from blazing through it; it's compulsively readable, and I made every opportunity I could to log on to it. Had time permitted, I'd have read it in one sitting --it's that compelling.
Much of the evaluation and background material in my review of Real Dangerous Girl (www.goodreads.com/review/show/413065384 ) applies to this sequel as well. Here, Jeter brings the immediate story arc begun there to a close, while leaving the future open. The themes of coming-of-age, "primitivism," and darkness vs. light begun in the first book are also explored further here, to serious effect. Kim has to really grapple here with the significance of what she's decided to do, and face the fact that it's changing her into a person who's less innocent and less gentle, and that this isn't necessarily a good thing. But that's set against other psychological factors of self-actualization and self-determination that aren't wholly negative either. This isn't the story of a good girl changing to a bad one. It's the story of an essentially decent girl learning to balance who she is with a world that's far from decent, with no other guides (besides a very dubious mentor) than her heart and her conscience. And this will be reflected in the real moral choices that come her way.
We get to know Kim better here, as a person as well as the fact that she's only 17 (as an "emancipated minor" --though we already knew she was pretty young). Other supporting characters are back and developed in more depth as well --not surprisingly, Cole, Donnie, Monica, McIntire and his chief goon Michael (and more surprisingly, TV newswoman Karen Ibanez). Also, we learn that our setting is a city in upstate New York (a character comes "up from Albany," an expression that wouldn't apply to New York City, which is down the Hudson from there, but would to cities built in the higher ground above the river valley). Jeter has kept his moral vision and standards of literary quality here. Again, there's no sex, and bad language is restrained. Action fans who felt that the first novel was light on violence (several people die there, but in only two parts of the book) will get more of it here, and Kim will be an active participant in more of it. Her development into someone who can both psychologically and physically handle that, as Jeter presents it over the course of the two books (rather than overnight) is believable. But again, the violence is handled tastefully, with no wallowing in gore for its own sake. I didn't have any issues with plot credibility here, and the pacing and developments are excellently crafted to keep a high level of suspense and tension, again building to a very powerful climax. Jeter imparts a lot of obviously well-researched information about guns and ammo, explosives, body armor and other technical equipment that adds verisimilitude without being info-dumped in in such large doses that it takes away from the movement of the story. (One minor error, though, is that modern pistols don't have to be cocked, as one is here; they're not "single-action," and fire with just a trigger pull. But a LOT of writers make that mistake.)
Kim's a heroine I think many characters can relate to in her moral quandaries, even though they involve extreme situations most people don't face --because, as she muses at one point, everybody, or just about everybody, at times has people who, at one level, they might like to kill, and figure the world would be better off without. The moral possibilities Jeter is using action-adventure fiction to explore are possibilities, or temptations, that confront us all.
One of the greatest strengths of these books, IMO, is the brother-sister relationship between Kim and Donnie, which is genuinely beautiful and touching (and a two-way street of caring and emotional support). As an only child, I never had a sister; but if I'd had a big sister like Kim, I think I'd have counted it an enormous blessing!
Finally, some readers may be put off by the short conversation in the first chapter here about sex (although there's no offensive language there). Basically, Kim has a normal interest in sex that she's never tried to act on because she's always seen herself as unattractive to guys. It's occurred to her that her new "dangerous" status, for some males, might change that; so she's somewhat put out when Cole tells her to forget that idea. (Other readers, of course, might sympathize with her, or find the discussion amusing.) My only comment would be that Kim isn't lewd or man-crazy; she just has the feelings and attitudes that a realistic teen who's grown up without much adult guidance in a sexually nihilistic culture would be expected to have. For whatever reason, she's displayed self-control in that area in the past; and I think she's learning to have more, rather than less, respect for herself in the present. So I wouldn't expect her to become a sexual push-over in the future. I don't know if Jeter plans to give her a love interest at some point in the series or not; but if he does, my guess is that she's the sort of woman who would take a relationship seriously, and who would be as loving and committed as a wife as she is as a sister. (And a lot of single-guy readers might dream...! :-) )...more
20th-century novelist Rumer Godden (1907-1998) was born in England but raised in British India (actually in the part that's today Bangladesh), and spe20th-century novelist Rumer Godden (1907-1998) was born in England but raised in British India (actually in the part that's today Bangladesh), and spent much of her life there. This short gem of a novel is set in Calcutta's high-stakes horse-racing milieu, ca. 1932, and fictionalizes what is said to be a real-life incident, imaginatively recreated here with the flair of a master writer. Godden brings to her tale something of the feel of Kipling, a touch of Dickens, a palpable love and feel for horses, and a style that's all her own. Around her four-legged title character (and he's a character as realized as the humans) a perfectly crafted plot entwines the lives of a cast of characters: a wealthy horse owner, a trainer and his unconventional family, an ex-jockey with a dubious reputation --and a convent of nuns. (How did they get in there? Well, you'll just have to read the book and find out!)
A writer in the Realist tradition (which doesn't mean she's without emotional sensibility, or an openness to a touch of the miraculous!), Godden brings the Calcutta of that day --its beauty, its exotic quality, its extremes of wealth and poverty, its teeming polyglot masses (Brits, Indians and Chinese; Christians, Hindus and Moslems; the high and the lowly-- to vivid life, with just the right amount of description and sensory appeal to allow readers who haven't been there to experience it. Her characterizations are wonderfully real; all of the important characters and many of the minor ones could practically walk off the page. A noticeable feature of her style is the frequent incorporation of flashback vignettes directly into the "real-time" narrative to illuminate and clarify it. This is never done in a confusing way, however; some readers would probably dislike the technique, but for me it enriched and fleshed out the narrative. She incorporates a wealth of solid, textured detail about horse raising and racing, Indian culture and conventual life seamlessly into her story, with no info dumps. As the story unfolds, you first come to care for all of the sympathetic characters, and then experience very real tension and suspense as those characters face their challenges.
Godden has a sharp eye for social injustice and hypocrisy, and she draws, among other things, a starkly ugly picture of the racism, sexism and lechery of many (happily not all) of the British and other privileged whites, a world where Indian and mixed-race women supposedly exist to be sexually used by entitled British males, but where marrying one for love means much of your race and class will disown you and forever ostracize your wife and kids. (The author isn't endorsing that, just holding it up to the light of day so we can see how really nauseous it was, and is.) But she's aware of life's wonderful possibilities as well as its injustices. A strong point of the book is the sympathetic treatment of the faith, and the lives of dedicated service, of Mother Morag and the nuns here, which brings a note of Divine grace into a world that's in need of it. (Godden was herself an adult convert to Roman Catholicism.)
My wife is an avid horse lover, and fond of any books that are horse-related; that attracted her to this one in a Reader's Digest condensed edition back in 1981, when we read it together. A foray into general fiction isn't my most characteristic reading choice nowadays, but I'm eager to identify books like this one where I've forgotten the author or title (the latter, in this case); so when I suspected that this was the correct title, I wanted to confirm it. I'm glad I did, and that I finally got to read the book in full, as it was intended to be. I found it a wonderfully satisfying and rewarding read; its appeal as general fiction goes beyond the narrow confines of horse-fiction fans. (I'm not one of the latter; but here the human element intertwining with the horse element is what makes the book succeed.) And I'd definitely be open to reading more by this author!...more
As the Goodreads description indicates, this isn't an actual book as such, but rather an invitation to other Goodreaders to describe their reading expAs the Goodreads description indicates, this isn't an actual book as such, but rather an invitation to other Goodreaders to describe their reading experience in the year just past, and a creative way of giving them a forum in which to do it. I like the concept, and am glad to accept the invitation!
By Goodreads' count, in 2014 I read 36 books, of which one was a lightweight child's picture book I read to my youngest grandson. Four more were really just short e-stories, all of them freebies. These were a mixed bag; I gave D. B. Jackson's "A Spell of Vengeance" four stars and Wil Wheaton's "Hunter" five, but Martyn V. Halm's "Locked Room" only got one, and another Wheaton story I didn't rate. (I didn't personally like it, but I thought it would appeal to fans with different taste.)
That leaves 31 actual grown-up books that I read for myself (or read out loud for both my wife and I). Of these, I rated 30 (the other one was a review copy, and I thought giving the author my feedback would be more helpful than a review). Those 30 were almost unanimously liked; only one got less than three stars. (Eleven of them earned five stars and nine more got four; so 2/3 were really liked or better!) Most were fiction; genre-wise, they break down into 17 speculative fiction titles (six science fiction, five supernatural, four fantasy, and two more that are hard to classify) and seven descriptive fiction: four historical, one action-adventure, and one crime fiction. (One more, Robert E. Howard's The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, straddles the descriptive/speculative divide; some stories are one, some the other). A Shakespeare play, a poetry chapbook, and three other nonfiction books round out the total. My liking for action heroines is reflected in the fact that 11 books (in various fictional genres) featured protagonists of this type; and I'm a fan of short fiction, so six collections of stories, by one author or several, made the list. (These also span various genres.) Unusually for me, I read five books (and rated four) as e-books this year, all of them free or review copies.
My friend Jackie and I usually do a buddy read every year; this past year, we continued our read of Stephen Lawhead's Bright Empires series with The Shadow Lamp, the fourth installment. I took part in eight group common reads in six groups; one of these proved to be my favorite book of the year, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. 2014 also saw me reading an unusual number of review copies from Goodreads or author/friend giveaways (eight that I actually reviewed). Some of my top favorite books of the year were by familiar favorite authors of mine: Robert E. Howard, Manly Wade Wellman, Norah Lofts, and Andrew Seddon. (Another favorite writer, J. R. R. Tolkien, got four stars from me for The Silmarillion, as did C. S. Lewis for The Four Loves.) Other five-star reads introduced me to authors new to me, with series openers for series that I'll be following: David Weber (On Basilisk Station), Suzanne Arruda (Mark of the Lion, and K. W. Jeter (Real Dangerous Girl --at least, I'll follow Jeter's Kim Oh series if he brings it back into print in paperback! Some other happy discoveries this year were freshman author Juliene Lloyd's Operation Angelica (five stars) and Melanie Frances' Anatomy of a Love Affair (three stars --and I don't usually like contemporary poetry). Through a common read in the classics group I belong to, I finally got to read a long-awaited classic, Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor (four stars). Rosemary Edghill's The Empty Crown, an omnibus volume of the first three novels in her Twelve Treasures series, made it into my list of five top favorite reads of the year, and it was a real disappointment to learn that the publisher won't continue the series. :-(
My major disappointment was with the final volume in Suzanne Collin's Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay. I'm one of the many fans who feel the author dropped the ball in that volume, although I still gave it two stars to reflect the fact that I liked it almost up to the end. Two other books, Son of the Morning by Linda Howard (which was a Christmas gift from my wife) and Wayne Reinagle's Pulp Heroes - Khan Dynasty also disappointed, in that I thought that with different execution the potential of the book could have been much better realized; but I still gave them three stars.
Looking ahead to 2015, Jackie and I plan to wrap up our read of the Bright Empires series with the final volume, The Fatal Tree. I'm finishing up my queue of review books, planning to take part in at least three group common reads, and I have some serious nonfiction reading in mind that I feel I need to do. Over and above that, I have a couple more series openers I want to read, and I really need (and want!) to make some effort to read further in some series that I've already started. But I'm always open to any happy surprise that may present itself!...more
Although the accurate Goodreads description for this collection of 12 original stories describes the mission of the TADSAW (Train a Dog, Save a WarrioAlthough the accurate Goodreads description for this collection of 12 original stories describes the mission of the TADSAW (Train a Dog, Save a Warrior, www.tadsaw.org ) organization, it neglects to mention that proceeds from the book sales go to support TADSAW's worthwhile work. My review copy was a no-strings-attached gift from my friend Andrew, one of the contributors. All of the selections are published here for the first time, though not necessarily originally written for this anthology.
T. H. Cragg's contribution here is a genuinely touching nonfiction memoir of the homecoming of his father's "war dog" after World War II. (Dogs trained for combat by the U.S. military were euthanized after the war, unless their former human partners were willing to give them a home; fortunately, in this case, T. H.'s dad was glad to do that.) The other contributors (editor Kyle also has a story included) all are represented by fictional tales. (The titular pun is obvious!) Three of these are mostly descriptive fiction (although one of these does have a supernatural element --but though integral to the plot, it's low-key); the others are speculative, mostly science fiction. Except for one story, the human lead characters are current or former members of the military, or military-like organizations. Their canine companions are mostly dogs, but in the SF yarns, they may be dog-like creatures (and wolves are represented in a couple of stories). These canines may play crucial, even life-saving roles in the story plots, or they may simply be loving companions for their humans. SF genre stalwart Kevin J. Anderson is the best-known author here (though I hadn't read any of his work before), and doesn't disappoint. But veteran anthology editor Kyle has assembled a quality collection here across the board! Every one of the selections is a good, worthwhile read; and all the authors have an accomplished, readable prose style.
My favorite of the descriptive stories is Kyle's "Partners," which has really engaging, believable characters; the perfect amount of texture, a nicely done premise and plot, and a skillful resolution. (I could like Blake, Micki and Steele --and Thor!-- as series characters!) World War II aerial combat is vividly evoked (in all its grisliest realism) in L. J. Bonham's "Sancho." And C. R. Asay succeeds as well in "The Greatest" at having an animal narrator, who thinks and feels the way we can actually imagine a dog doing (rather than coming across as essentially a human disguised with fur and four feet), as it's probably possible to within the conceit that a dog can be this verbal.
Andrew's "The Dancing Golden Girls" is in a class by itself among the speculative stories --not because the author is a friend or because I beta read the story several years ago, but because I genuinely like it. Set in 1927 Egypt, it's the first story of a cycle about World War I veteran Sheffield and his dog Baltasar, whose travels pit them against various sinister entities of a Lovecraftian sort, but handled without the existential pessimism that's often tacked on to HPL's own work. (Okay, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, if it's well-done --and nobody does it better than Andrew!)
That story has a resolution to it, even though it's the start of a series. If the other speculative stories have a flaw, it's that the writers often dump us into the middle of events with a considerable back-story and a partially-built world with all kinds of features hat cry out for more explanation, but not really enough scope in the short format to fill in either; and they often don't have real resolutions, either. If I didn't know better, I could see some of them as novel excerpts. (S. A. Wallin's draconic fantasy "The Commanders Tail" is actually a "companion piece" to her still-unpublished the Dragon's Daughter.) Sometimes this was a bit frustrating, and I might have deducted a half star for this if I could have. But I was usually able to take this on its own terms as a reflection of life, where events often don't have tidy resolutions either. That said, Doranna Durgin's "Just Hanah" is a fine example of a well-done coming-of-age story. Anderson does an excellent job of creating palpable suspense in his near-future dystopin vision, "Dogged Persistence." Leah in Dana Bell's "Pack Rule" was a protagonist who intrigued me, and whom I'd like to have seen more of, or more developed, in terms of what's next.
None of these stories have any sexual content, and they either have no bad language or not an excessive amount of it. Violence is generally not too graphic, and it isn't there unless it needs to be. Darkness and death may be realities in the characters' world; but in any case, the messages are about hope and life. Highly recommended, to any readers who are lovers of hope and life!
Appalachian author Mildred Haun (1911-1966) was a protege' of John Crowe Ransom, whose pupil she was at Vanderbilt Univ. This particular collection waAppalachian author Mildred Haun (1911-1966) was a protege' of John Crowe Ransom, whose pupil she was at Vanderbilt Univ. This particular collection was the only book of fiction she published in her career; it was reprinted in 1968 by Vanderbilt Univ. Press as The Hawk's Done Gone: And Other Stories, with the later "other stories" (mostly unpublished in her lifetime) comprising the second half. My long residence in Appalachia has given me an interest in fiction set in that region, so when I found the later book in the BC library soon after I started working there, it piqued my interest. However, I quit reading after finishing the original book.
Haun was a native of the mountains of eastern Tennessee, where these stories are set; she was thoroughly familiar with the customs, dialect and lore of the area (her master's thesis was on the folk ballads of her native Cocke County). This is reflected in these stories, which are set from the late 1800s up to 1940 and, as the Goodreads description (which I wrote; I added the book to the database just now) notes, form a cycle focusing on the Kanipe family. The narrator of all but one is the Granny-woman (midwife and herb doctor) Mary Dorthula White Kanipe, wife of the family patriarch Ad Kanipe, who lives into his 90s. While I've characterized the tales as general fiction, they often reflect the deep-rooted belief of the mountain people in witchcraft and other superstitions, which the narrator and other characters accept as realities. One story, "Barshia's Horse He Made, It Flew," is actually genuine supernatural fiction, of the type that delivers a supernatural comeuppance to an unpleasant character. (IMO, that's the best story in the lot, and the most memorable.) As far as it goes, the folklore and factual material about Appalachia can be fascinating. (For instance, this book gave me my first knowledge of the Melungeons, a group featured particularly in "Melungeon-Colored.")
However, all regions are home to good, evil and in-between people, and they all have their positive and negative aspects. Writers may focus on one or the other, or seek a balance. Haun's focus here is wholly on the region's darkest side; the Kanipes (or at least the males of the family; the women are often drawn more positively) are definitely among the more unpleasant denizens of the mountains. Running themes in the narratives are things like murder, abortion and infanticide; incest, infidelity and other types of sexual immorality, male chauvinism and misogyny, spousal abuse, and general sexism; vicious racism; family dysfunction; and assorted anti-social behaviors. And Haun's literary vision is darkly pessimistic: bad things happen to good people (and to everybody else), if good things happen, they're so rare I don't recall any, and about the best victory characters can expect over the misery of life is surviving through it. (A certain strand of Appalachian-set fiction historically tended to treat the mountain folk as grotesques, for the entertainment of lowland-dwelling "normal" people; it's probably not too far from the mark to view this book in the context of that tradition.) This wasn't really my cup of tea. (For a more appealing, and more balanced, approach to Appalachia through short fiction, I'd recommend Jesse Stuart's Clearing in the Sky & Other Stories.)...more