100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared –Book Review

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In his memoir, 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How my Brother Disappeared, Kim Stafford pieces together fragmented memories of the life of his brother as a means of understanding and coming to terms with his suicide. The memoir, separated into four “books” begins with memories the author has of the last few months of his older brother Bret’s life, leading up to the moment he took his life. Stafford muses on the long held belief he has been holding onto that he could have prevented Bret’s death. What follows is a series of anecdotal memories from the two boy’s lives growing up together, and their journeys into adulthood, both together and separate, that have become meaningful to Stafford in his attempt to understand and grapple with the loss of his brother, and closest ally in life. Through these memories, we witness Stafford’s journey to rediscover the memories of his brother that have been clouded by his death. A large majority of the memoir consists of Stafford’s childhood memories both directly and indirectly involved with Bret. Through these memories, we see the differences between Kim and Bret, having Bret in Kim’s life was the single most integral factor in shaping him into the person he became in adulthood. In one section of the book, Stafford describes a memory in which he and his brother had ventured away from their boy scout camping trip, on a solo hike up a mountain, connected by a length of rope tied between them for safety. The image of the rope connecting them becomes symbolic to the reader as more and more of their brotherly bond is reviled, and we understand the deep connection that they felt with each other growing up.

As we read, and more and more memories of friendship and understanding from the boys’ childhood surface, our recollections from the beginning of the book become all the more haunting. As Stafford muses in the opening sections of his memoir, in Bret’s final days on earth, he felt completely alone and in a place that Kim and the rest of their family was unable to reach or even to detect. As Stafford muses on Bret’s behavior in his last weeks, he discovers changes in him that only became visible after it was too late. In the later sections of the book, Stafford reflects on his time with Bret saying “In my life, I observe–in both myself and others–a different habit: we talk about different things at the same time. This is marked by the relative rarity of the following sentence in the flow of our conversations: “Tell me more.” When I remember life with my brother, always eager to tell him what I was accomplishing, I said this too rarely.”

The experience of reading this book was not at all what I expected it to be. I thought the book would be about having a loved one with depression and experiencing their suicide. The book was this in some way, but it was not at all a story of Bret’s death, but rather a story of his life, and for this reason I found the book all the more compelling. As Stafford reflects in the afterward of the book, “I set out to write the story of how my brother disappeared–from the world, and from my family’s conversation–but by writing I find he begins to reappear as a rich dimension in my life. If I did not listen deeply enough to my brother when he was alive, I have been listening since he died.” This assertion that Stafford makes at the end of the memoir was a clarifying moment for me as a reader, who was looking for some kind of unity in the memories that were being recounted. In a way, I feel this is one of the things that makes Stafford’s work so masterful. I did not understand the lesson he had learned, and in turn was passing off to me, until the final page of the book.

For this reason, at times some of the parts of the memoir felt a bit disjointed. Many of the memories that Stafford chose to include did not even include Bret, but in some ways I think this worked for the type of story he was trying to tell. By the end of the book, my understanding as a reader is that the creation of this book, and the compilation of these recollections from the author’s past worked as both a tribute to the life of his brother, but also as means of imparting the truth he has found in these memories. For Stafford, the book is a way of as he puts it,“talking bravely,” which has been something he has recognized as a weakness in not only his own family, but the world at large.

While the message of this book and its lasting impact were insightful and impactful, there were some moments in the narrative that felt inauthentic in the sense of memoir writing. There were moments in the narrative where I felt as if Stafford was blurring the lines between what he felt in the moment, and his feelings about that moment as an adult living in the present. In some cases, it felt like he projected his reflective musings onto his earlier self, often making it seem as if he had found that particular wisdom in the moment, when it seemed more likely that the true meaning of the moment came to him in later contemplation. At times it was difficult to distinguish the difference between what he understood in the moment, and what he now understands the moment to mean.

That being said, the strong aspects of Stafford’s style in the memoir far outweigh the weak. The stylistic choice to divide the story into individual memories made it easy and enjoyable to read. Overall, I think this is the sort of book that anyone can appreciate. In fact, I think for many reasons, the narrative that Stafford has created is one that many people need to hear in this day and age, when hatred and suffering are such prevalent parts of our day to day lives.

Interestingly, I discovered this book during an author panel at the 2017 AWP writer’s conference that was centered around the idea of empathy. In discussion, Stafford mentioned that after writing this book, a friend of his read it and then gave it to both of his sons to read. He felt that it was a type of “medicine” he could give them to help them in the world we live in today. In many respects I think the purpose of this book is to be a kind of medicine for an audience that is programed to hide their vulnerability. Through revealing his own failings, Stafford both atones for the lack of vulnerability he shared with his brother, and coaches his reader on how to find this kind of openness in themselves.

100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared

Kim Stafford

200 pages. Published by Trinity University Press. $16.95

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Cliché Without the Cliché: A Review of Lang Leav’s “Memories”

         Lang Leav has become a best-selling poet in the three years she’s been professionally writing. Since 2014 she has published three books of poetry and aside from the occasional book signing, has managed to keep her private life private. She runs a small blog on poetry and the release dates of upcoming books and begins each book with a small letter of introduction. Not much else can be said on Lang Leav; she spends her time jotting down real poems in her New Zealand home with her partner, and fellow poet, Michael Faudet.

The Lang Leav collection I chose to review is titled: Memories. Published in 2015 this collection of poetry is Leav’s third publication and includes pieces from her other two books as well as a few that are new. Her style can be described as personal, right down to the letter of introduction in the beginning. Her poetry centers around the themes of love and loss; both very heavy topics and topics close to the hearts of many people in this world. The danger in writing on love and loss is that it could wind up being a cliché sing-song piece of poetry. It could end up being page after page of the same old thing. Leav has a way of shaking up this worn out concept in the way she structures her poems and the images she uses to create a feeling. The poems in this collection shift back and forth between strictly structured pieces and pieces that flow as if they were prose. I chose the poetry of Lang Leav to review for the originality, how relatable, and the pure talent in her poetry.

Leav has a way of making a paragraph sound poetic. For example page 19 of Memories is where you find the collection’s namesake. The poem, entitled “Memories”, looks at first glance to be a simple paragraph; not poetry at all. But, reading the lines we can see inlaid rhyme such as “…Your mind pulls him to the foreground like a snapped rubber band. And you think of the line he drew in the sand, the one you can’t seem to put a foot past.” (19). While the lines are presented within a paragraph they, like many of the others, set a smooth poetic tone to the piece; giving it the structural form of poetry. This poem is about loss, a simple idea that we have all felt at one moment or another. We know what it feels like to lose somebody but it isn’t a feeling most can put into words. At least, not original words but metaphors handed down to us. We can’t fully express what we feel, yet, in a simple paragraph looking poem its as if Leav has reached into the lives of each of us. “Memories” is the aftermath of loss and the ending sums up what it feels like to remember: ” And the world falls away and you’re exactly where you were on the last night you saw him, when he had his hands in your hair and his mouth on your neck and he never said a word about leaving.” (19). Leav is not afraid of the ideas of intimacy even in it’s most personal form. The ending of this poem gives me goose bumps and makes my voice shake, because that is the feeling. It isn’t a cliché metaphor but a real and powerful image of a memory.

Leav’s poetry is not all about loss. On page 123 there is a poem entitled “Us” that I will talk about briefly for its uniquely real and honest image of what love is. The images are domestic and natural. Things like napping, common forgetfulness and playful arguments over something as mundane as who puts in the DVD. This poem doesn’t showcase the flowers and chocolates and unending adoration that you see in romance movies. Instead, it embraces the normalcy and the love that comes with it. A true relationship that is complete with love. The lines that really captures this attitude come near the end:

“We argue over whose turn it is to put the DVD in the player. / Sometimes no one wins and we end up watching bad TV. / Which is never really a bad thing.” (123).

This line is what sums up Leav’s ability to truly relate to an audience and her unique way of portraying love in a way that is not cliché and embraces the hearts of readers.

While “Us” did have a more poetic form, with line breaks rather than a paragraph, Leav takes us to another format. One much more standard. “Wounded” on page 221 is composed of three four line stanzas with a syllable count of 5,4,4,4. The reason the sudden switches in format: from poetic prose, to free form, to strict structure, are so important is that they show the range of Leav’s grasp of poetic language. Such things combined with her ability to pull emotion from simple, real images and stay away from clichés though her subject matter begs for it, that’s what makes her poetry good.

As a lover of poetry I do read many poems. Most of them are long and complicated or short and seem nonsensical. Lang Leav’s poetry is neither. Her poetry is that which is meant to be read out loud either by yourself or with someone who wants to hear nothing but your voice. Memories fully captures what it is to both love and lose and many of my favorite poems can be found right in this book. I recommend this book for anyone who feels like they just don’t understand what they’re feeling; because maybe, just maybe, they’ll find an answer that isn’t a clichéd metaphor.

 

Memories

Lang Leav

243 pages, Andrews McMeel Publishing, $19.99

The Princess Diarist (Book Review)

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The Princess Diarist, written by Carrie Fisher, also known as the only Princess in the galaxy to have strangled a giant slug with the help of her metal bikini, is the story of the beginning of an acting career. A career which would become much greater than ever anticipated, at the young age of 19 years old. This is Fisher’s seventh book, and sadly, her last. “The Princess Diarist” is one of her three memoirs, the first being Wishful Drinking published in 2008, and the next Shockaholic published in 2011. While her first two autobiographical books cover much of the early years of her life, being raised by her movie star mother Debbie Reynolds and abandoned by her father Eddie Fisher, The Princess Diarist delves into the beginning of Fisher’s own acting career. This began with her very first role in a film called “Shampoo”, and quickly moved to becoming the iconic Princess Leia Organa, in a low-budget Sci-Fi film called Star Wars, which later came to be known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.

Fisher is incapable of telling a single story without a hint of sarcasm and disenchantment in her voice, from recounting her first experiences with boys (who she now realizes were gay men) in her early teens, to the memories of her affair with her 35-year-old co-star Harrison Ford, who would later become her movie husband, Han Solo. She describes what it’s like to be a young woman, or in her words “jail bait”, working and spending her weekends with an almost entirely male cast and crew in London for the filming of Star Wars. We learn about her infatuation with Harrison, both in her words 40 years after the fact, and through the diary entries written when she was 20, consisting mostly of poetry about her undefined relationship with him. Aside from this topic, Fisher goes into detail about the pressures of fame that she had never expected, and wasn’t necessarily sure she even wanted. Stories were told in full conversations with the crazed fans she would meet, always desperate for what she called a “celebrity lap dance”, or more commonly known as an autograph. She reveals what it was like to no longer be seen as just a woman, but a space Princess. Of course after the hype of the original trilogy died down and years had passed, money started to become a problem. She often found herself at comic conventions, bitterly giving celebrity lap dance after celebrity lap dance for cash. Fisher doesn’t go into a great amount of detail about her struggle with mental health, but it can be understood how it affected her from the way that she thinks and speaks about herself, and especially so when she was a less confident, younger woman. Her cynicism and her wit make it clear that now, 40 years later, as she looks back on the biggest changes in her life, she can’t take it all seriously. Shortly before Fisher passed in December of last year, the Star Wars films were revived, and she took part in two more titled Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. As she describes at the very end of the first chapter, the revival was, “like an acid flashback, only intergalactic, in the moment, and essentially, real.”

“The Princess Diarist” is enjoyable to read primarily because of its humor. Not to say it would be a bad book if it weren’t funny, or that it’s only funny in the way that Fisher is constantly telling jokes, but because she portrays her attitude and voice so well through her writing, the entire recount of her experiences seem like one big joke, making it easy to relate to and laugh at past experiences as she does. Even though this is a story about life-changing experiences, none of it is taken too seriously. You could say that she generally doesn’t take life itself too seriously. For fans of Star Wars, don’t expect to learn too much about the filming of the movie, what it was like to be on set, or what all of her co-stars were like. You don’t learn about Princess Leia, you learn about Carrie, who is dealing with sharing a part of herself with Leia. She comments that frequently they are mistaken for the same person. If you really want to learn more about Carrie Fisher, read this book. She describes her experiences during the filming of Star Wars with new and interesting details, but the important thing is that the way she speaks about them allows readers to understand what these experiences felt like for her.

This book is not just for young women, Star Wars fans, aspiring actresses, or Carrie Fisher fans. Known for speaking her mind and cracking a few jokes in the process, Fisher wrote a book for anyone who can share a laugh about the absurdity that is fame, popular culture, body image, giant hair buns, and love. If you can enjoy sarcasm, obscenities, references to oneself and their breasts as though they were two different entities in the world of film, detailed descriptions of the way Harrison Ford managed to look uninterested all the time, and sad poems about young love, then give it a read. Even better, listen to the audiobook narrated by Carrie Fisher herself, and her daughter Billie Lourd, who reads the diary entries.

The Princess Diarist

Carrie Fisher

272 pages. Published by Blue Rider Press. 2016.

Book Review of A Thin Bright Line

Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s “A Thin Bright Light Line” is a relatively new book as it was published in 2016. Earlier this year I attended a conference and at one of the panels I went to,  Bledsoe did a reading of this book. I was immediately intrigued and after the panel I knew I had to get this book and read it as quickly as possible. It had been a while since I had been so hooked by just a few paragraphs of a novel.A Thin Bright Line

 

“A Thin Bright Line” is a fictitious work that follows the life of a real person and overall has a lot of truth in it. The main character is actually Bledsoe’s deceased aunt, Lucybelle Bledsoe. Lucybelle died in a fire when Bledsoe was a child and therefore she never knew much of her aunt. However, as an adult she became curious about who her aunt was and as she began to research, she stumbled across fascinating information. Lucybelle had worked for the government during the Cold War and was involved with research of ice cores. In addition to that revelation, Bledsoe discovered  her aunt was a lesbian and had been forced to hide that fact due to the time period.

The novel starts in Greenwich Village where Lucybelle is living with her longterm girlfriend, Phyllis. Lucybelle is approached one day by a strange man who knows a lot about her and offers her a significantly better job in Chicago. She refuses at first and returns to her home. However, she discovers that Phyllis is leaving her in order to marry one of their gay male friends. Phyllis felt that her theater career was suffering because of her unmarried status and she desperately wanted a family. Lucybelle is heartbroken and decides to take the job offer in Chicago. However, it is made clear to her that she can’t have any romantic relationships, and that if she does so, there will be repercussions. She is given a fabricated backstory where her husband died in the war and she is now a widow who is uninterested in relationships. She begins her job in Chicago and is an editor of scientific papers on ice cores. She then meets Stella, a woman who runs a taxi cab company with her longterm girlfriend. The two begin a whirlwind affair and fall deeply in love. This all comes to a halting crash when Stella’s girlfriend discovers the affair. Lucybelle is left once again with heartbreak.  She’s relocated to Lebanon, NH to continue research and is accompanied by three secretaries that she also works with. These three women are also lesbians and deeply closeted in order to avoid detection and the possibility of losing their jobs. In Lebanon, Lucybelle begins to write a novel and she falls in love with a researcher, Vera. The novel ends with the night that Lucybelle died in a fire. While the book ends before her death, readers are aware that it is the night she died as each day is marked with date.

I felt that this book was incredibly well written, with a strong plot and even stronger characters. Each character felt developed, unique and were given traits that made them feel real. They were all flawed in believable and very human ways.  Some were incredibly likable, and others were  irritating in a realistic manner.  The ensemble characters allowed for the story to really come to life and showed the diversity that has always existed. Emotions were particularly well developed within this story. By this, I mean that each of Lucybelle’s heartbreaks felt different. She was saddened each time but it was clear that they impacted her differently.  This added to the authenticity of the novel, as no two heartbreaks are the same. The wit infused throughout this novel was also a strength and highlight of it. There were some moments that were genuinely funny and Lucybelle was a sharp and clever character; her observations were frequently amusing and cutting. While this book features a lot of romance, I wouldn’t classify it in anyway as a romance novel. It’s following someone’s life and career, and romance simply happens to be a significant part of that. 

My only real criticism of the novel was that some parts felt as though they were unnecessary. This was particularly how I felt about Phyllis making a brief return in the second part of the book. It furthered the plot temporarily, but I felt as though the plot could have continued just fine without her interference. There was enough tension already without her coming back into Lucybelle’s life, especially because she exited it shortly after. I felt the same way when one of the secretaries repeatedly tried to create a relationship with Lucybelle and later had a large fight with her in front of their work colleagues. I understood that it was there for tension, but by that point, there was enough tension coming from other parts of the book. Occasionally these moments felt overwhelming and like there was simply too much going on at once.
Overall, I’m so happy that I read this book as I deeply enjoyed it. It was intriguing and I found myself consistently invested. I cared about the characters and what would happen to them.  This novel touched upon a lot of important topics,  the civil rights movement being one of them. Stella was black and this wasn’t something that was ignored; when her and Lucybelle were together, the difference in their treatment was made quite clear to the reader. I enjoyed reading a novel where an array of lesbian relationships were being depicted, and that while there was heartbreak, there were also many  loving and successful relationships as well.  I was also pleased to see issues such as having to be closeted being addressed within the narrative. I think that this is a novel that anyone could enjoy, but particularly those are who interested with history and the Cold War era, those who are interested in strong characters and people who like well written romances.

 

A Thin Bright Line

Lucy Jane Bledsoe

323 pages. Published by the University of Wisconsin Press. Hardcover $26.95

Solibo Magnificent; A Book Review On The Significance Of Storytelling Within The Creole Culture

It’s no secret for those who have read Solibo Magnificent by Patrick Chamoiseau, it’s a beautiful illustration of literary technique, and deeper meaning. There are many metaphors and deeper messages to be uncovered within the text, which contributes to the overarching messages, and takeaways behind the story.

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I would like to start by firstly stating that, for those who haven’t read the text you should without a doubt do so. “Patat’ sa!” (Chamoiseau, 8) This was Solibo’s last word before passing away within the first pages of the text, whilst storytelling in the crowded streets of Fort de France during a carnival. There is a greater significance behind this word, and this is just one example of how language plays a central role to how it both constitutes the world within the text, but also how the characters are oriented through the cultural contexts within the story. The word “Patat’ sa” is translated to “This potato!,” in the text. This would seem silly to some, but the significance concerning this word revolves around how it serves as a sort of guideline as a way to define Solibo’s character, and what he stands for. It was the way Solibo wanted to be remembered, and the imprint he wanted to leave, that being through his creative, goofy, genuine, storytelling, and warmth. It’s Solibo’s character of which exemplified the art and cultural aspect of storytelling, but beyond this Solibo knew that the world around him wasn’t on the same page, which is why he did what he did, in hopes to change it. No one fully appreciated Solibo’s art until he had passed, because the culture around him had their backs turned to his talents. I’m going to make the argument here that the relationship between the French and Creole cultures, and language usages is what constitutes the “world” within the text. The entire novel demonstrates how both cultures, and their languages, bash against one another. The two cultural aspects, the French and the Creole, and their linguistic properties, make up the entire text, and it’s this central concept that constitutes everything that happens after the first pages of the text. “The world” in the text is not only Solibo’s investigation, but deeper than that, the chaos that follows it, and the clash between the two cultures, which in turn brings me to my next point which includes the orientation aspect of the text.

The way in which these characters in the text are oriented can be seen through the connection through language. Language is the key ongoing idea throughout the text, and is what drives the characters decisions. The police become frustrated with the witness because of the linguistic tension, and misunderstanding, so a women is beat to death, and many others are beaten and locked away in cells. It’s this aspect of language, and misunderstanding that I think Chamoiseau is trying to get at here. This story reflects modern times fluidly in the sense that our police departments still, today mistreat African Americans simply, because of racial profiling, and cultural tension. This is course isn’t the only reference to modern occurrences, but is a more prominent one. Cultural tension can be seen in the text, and is what language works through throughout the text. Solibo’s practice of storytelling also served as a necessary aspect of orientation in order to salvage a very ancient tradition, and educate as well as entertain others. Although this ended upon Solibo’s passing, language as a whole, and the transition of the story reflect upon Solibo’s imprint on the culture of the story. Solibo more or less is THE symbol for creole language in the text, and Chamoiseau’s narrative works with this concept in such a beautiful way in which as I said above, the orientational aspect of the text revolves around the Creole culture as a whole. These methods of orientation are necessary in the sense that without them, the central concepts, and relationship of language would not be as fluid as it is through Chamoiseau’s narrative. The creole culture acts as the evidence of orientation, which is a reflection of the overarching concept of language, which defines the “world” of the story.

The religious aspect of the text can be seen through the Creole cultural aspects of the story combined with the significance, and interaction through language. Solibo’s uniqueness, and creativity act as a guideline for how the remainder of the text unfolds. There’s an inception-esque feel to the story. By this I mean Solibo’s art of being a storyteller is replaced by the other characters telling his story for him. I think that is what makes the novel so fun, and liberating. Back to what makes the modes of orientation religious, I would have to say this can be seen in language once more. These individuals were raised in this specific cultural setting and exposure and oriented in a specific way, and Solibo brought a new perspective to the table. Alongside this, the overarching metaphor behind how the townspeople thought Solibo had died by a “word,” and was rather not murdered, which is what the police immediately assumed, because of, once again, the clash of cultures. The aspect of religious input is scene through Chamoiseau’s narrative, and attention to how significant Solibo’s words really were, but how he more so lived on through the people around him after his passing. Looking deeper into a metaphorical sense I think Chamoiseau used Solibo as a peacemaker to the entirety of the story, and as a guideline to the structure of the orientation within the world of the text, that being of course the significance of language.

To conclude I want to include the ending to the novel, because it illustrates a “coming full circle” aspect to the text. Chamoiseau’s narrative ends on a positive note, as Solibo’s storytelling did not go unnoticed, and will forever be held in the Creole culture. More than this the language of Solibo will forever be immortalized. In terms of the novel once again I think Chamoiseau does an outstanding job including many metaphors through the life of Solibo, and the art that storytelling plays in that specific culture. More then this I give this book an 8.5 out of 10, and I highly recommend it’s content to new readers.

“And under the barrel Solibo will be all joy he’ll go to the countryless land where the sky is thirteen colors, plus the last color where all the weeds grow less often than the pacala yams, where Air-France got no terminal and where the bekes aint got no kind of plantation factory or big store, where the charcoal needs no fire and where the fire rises without charcoal, where you see children flying with wasps and butterflies, where the sun is a big ka-drum and the moon Is a lute, where the blackman is all joy all music all dance all syrup on life’s back, and where oh children where Solibo himself despite his big mouth and his big tongue, and his big throat, will no longer need . . .  hugckh . . . PATAT’ SA! . . . PATAT’ SA! . . .” (Chamoiseau, 172)

Solibo Magnificent

Patrick Chamoiseau

190 pages

Vintage International/Vintage Books

$15.00 USD

Chamoiseau, Patrick. Solibo Magnificent. New York: Vintage International. 1999. Print.

Book Review Project – Landline

I picked Rainbow Rowell’s Landline to review for this assignment because I adore the way she writes. Her characters are always extremely relatable and well-written. I’ve read a number of her works and happened to have one book of her that hadn’t read just lying around, thus becoming my book to review. I fell in love with this novel, just like every other Rowell novel that I have read. Landline is about love, marriage and learning how to make it work. It lets us into the marriage of Georgie and Neal, allowing us to explore the concepts of give and take and when to realize that your are taking more than you are giving. Its a fun quirky commentary of married life and fate that really hits home.  It’s set in the week leading up to Christmas and follows her journey of personal growth.

“There’s a magic phone in my childhood bedroom. I can use it to call husband in the past. (My husband who isn’t my husband yet. My husband who maybe shouldn’t be my husband at all.)

There’s a magic phone in my childhood bedroom. I unplugged it this morning and hid it in the closet. Maybe all the phones in the house are magic.

Or maybe I’m magic. Temporarily magic (HA! Time travel pun!) Does it count as time travel? If it’s just my voice traveling?

There’s a magic phone hidden in my closet. And I think it’s connected to the past. And I think I’m supposed to fix something. I think I’m supposed to make something right.” (Rowell, 139)

Georgie McCool is a wife, a mother and a comedy writer. She’s been working towards her own sitcom with her best friend,Jeff, for years. But when opportunity comes knocking at an inopportune time, she has to make a decision that throws her family into turmoil. Just days before Christmas, Georgie is now separated from her family as they travel to Omaha for the holidays. Georgie, left behind in California with no explanation from her husband and a family that thinks he’s left her, she strives to finish her work before the deadline and ultimately win her dream show. But when her husband becomes more and more unwilling to answer Georgie’s calls, she starts to wonder if he really did leave her. Not wanting to return to her empty house, she visits her mother and decides again to try to call her husband. Because her cellphone is chronically dead, she opts to use her old yellow landline. She quickly discovers that the Neal on the end of the line is not her husband…yet. Somehow the phone connects to the Neal she knew before they were married, the Neal from 1998 that was going to propose on Christmas of that year.  Like any normal person would be she’s shocked at first but then realizes that maybe she’s suppose to fix something. This moment of realization triggers Georgie to take an intense look at their relationship. She decides that it’s time for her to give a little more and makes a grand gesture that she hopes will help save her marriage.

As I mentioned above, my favorite thing about Rowell’s novels are the characters. She writes characters that feel like old friends, comforting and familiar, but still quirky enough to keep you guessing.Her female protagonists are relatable without being so to a fault. Georgie is well-rounded, flawed and she has to face these things and grow. She also does a good job of writing relationships at different levels. In landline, the reader gets a very frank view of married life. The ups and downs of it and the consequence of taking more than your are giving.

I think others will like this book because they feature a number of quirky, well-rounded characters that they can relate to. These characters like people you know and she writes them into existence effortlessly. I haven’t read a book by Rowell that hasn’t warmed my heart or brought me to tears at some point. Every character that she’s written allow you to relate to them in a different way.  I think that readers will enjoy her unique characters, the funny dialogue and the wickedly relatable retrospective journey that the main character takes in this novel.

Landline

Rainbow Rowell

310 pages

St. Martin’s Press

$24.99 USD

 

My Fight / Your Fight Book Review

I bought my copy of My Fight / Your Fight by Ronda Rousey back in 2015 at the time it was published.  I had just begun focusing more on my own health and athletic pursuits and wanted to find something to motivate me to keep up my work outs.  My Fight / Your Fight was the perfect book for such motivation.  Whether you appreciate Rousey as an athlete and want to read her book from an athletic viewpoint, or just want to hear that you are capable of reaching your goals, My Fight / Your Fight is a great book for all types of readers. 

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In My Fight / Your Fight, Rousey offers raw, emotional stories that detail the painful events of her past and what led her into fighting at such a young age.  Rousey begins with the very first fight she has ever fought: overcoming the tragic death of her father.  She details the hard time she spent as a child trying to make sense of and understand her father’s decision.  Overcoming this fight must have taken more strength and courage than any other fight Rousey details at the start of her book.  She truly does an incredible job at detailing  the pain that she felt at that time in her life and how it led her to explore new outlets in life. With her mother being an incredible Judo fighter, Rousey followed in her mothers footsteps at the age of 11.  She continues on to discuss her tough training, even as a child, and how it led her to become the youngest Olympic judoka.   As Rousey moves through her life and struggles, she does not shy away from issues in her love life, offering an even deeper, personal view of various type of struggles Rousey has endured.  My Fight / Your Fight offers a few examples of meeting people who may be better off remaining strangers, something every reader may be able to relate to. Rousey also discusses obstacles she has faced within the UFC Octagon.  Rousey tells the reader how she made her way from being an Olympic athlete to being at the forefront of the UFC’s Women’s division.  No other woman prior to Rousey was able to convince UFC President, Dana White to allow women to start a division within the UFC. With a women’s division created, Rousey was left with her next fight, the first she would have inside of a UFC Octagon.  Through reading, some of her fights may appear to be discouraging at times; however, the most important aspect of Rousey’s book is her discussions of how she made it through these difficult times.  Rousey offers plenty of advice throughout My Fight / Your Fight and motivational slogans that can help the readers work through their own fights.  Perhaps my favorite quote, which leaves no room for inactivity, is when Rousey says to her readers, “Don’t be a Do Nothing Bitch.”

My Fight / Your Fight utilizes feminist notions that women are as capable as men are. Rousey tackles the difficult notion that the UFC is inherently a men’s sport.  Rousey does not allow the lack of a woman’s UFC division to  hold her back from creating one.  Nor does she allow physical stereotypes to hold her back from pushing her body to the limit.

My Fight / Your Fight may interest young girls who need an example of a woman who made it.  It is inspirational and motivational.  For this reason, it is also a good book for any athlete, or anyone who has faced a fight in their lifetime, to  read.

My Fight / Your Fight

Ronda Rousey

320 pages.  Regan Arts. $14.99

Rousey, Ronda, and Maria Burns. Ortiz. My Fight / Your Fight. New York: Regan Arts, 2015. Print.

The Last Days; A Book Report on The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins

This book is about the slow diminution of magic in 12th -13th century Ireland due to the invasion of the Christian church and their lust for power. The Celts and the magical beings, known as the Sidhe, struggle to keep their hold on their homeland and rely on the power of the Morrígna twins to save them. When one of these twins is murdered and their power diminished, the English finds the perfect time to strike. The story focuses on many different characters and their stories, allowing the reader to choose their side and experience everything.

The book began with the framing device of starting in the present to go back to the past to tell the major story in which the book was focused on. This method served as ineffective in its construction due to the complete immersion in the main story with no reference back to the present character until the ending. The framing devices intent seemed to be to connect the reader to the main character using a present-day setting, but the connection fell flat. Starting with the death of a character that the reader does not sufficiently get to know serves as more of a placement device in the frameworks of the story rather than a moment of empathy.

The ending came back to the initial framing device to find that the death was faked and the character was still alive, but due to the lack of personal connection to the character, it is ineffective. It also serves to, theoretically, tie up lose ends throughout the story, but does not serve as such. The ending feels unsatisfying but also indefinite and unclear. We end the section on the 13th century with Aisling’s eventual death. Aisling served as the hope to save Ireland from the English and restore magic. After this we get a six hundred year gap, which serves as an extremely important gap in time that could have been explored and expanded upon rather than the use of a framing device to connect the past to the present day. In fact, the framing device brings the reader back to the realization of the fiction in the fantasy and brings us out of the book. It also served as a shoddy way to show the influence of the magic throughout the story in the present day, because we lost so many years in between the initial story and present day.

Ireland’s history feels incomplete and the questions too enormous. There is not an important or climactic ending, Ireland simply fades away into the present leaving the reader to fill in the gaps with their own historical knowledge.This is a risky and unsuccessful manevour since the history of the story is already being manipulated due to the inclusion of the fantasy where the boundaries of history and fiction are blured. The references to St, Patrick and Chaucer showed its attempt to produce an alternate history but the leap to the present shattered the connection. We leave 13th century Ireland in the midst of a war, with which we get no sense of completion or conclusion.

The only inclination the readers get about the past time is the epilogue dictating what happened to certain characters. Even this seems to be a laugh in the face of the reader, for it focuses on the most minor and insignificant characters. The epilogue even gave the impression that the English were victorious, because none of the characters mentioned were the Celts or magical beings.

We are not given enough information to calculate what possibly could have happened over the extensive span of time. Theoretically the answer would be that the English took over and all the magical beings were driven out, yet in the present the magic remains. The magical beings mere presence in the present brings many new questions about the past that was so abruptly left behind. The twins were an essential part of the entire story but were still left to dust. Bringing in such a major and central idea and then letting it blow away with the rest of the Irish history makes the whole story feel unimportant and makes the reader wonder why we focused on this character and what they gave to us as readers.

The conflicts themselves arise in the world throughout the viewpoint of different characters, essentially allowing the reader to choose their own alliances. This would have been more effective without the use of the framing device, because it sets up with the descendants of the Irish, pushing the readers alliance towards the Irish rather than the English.

Since it was told through multiple perspectives, it was hard to identify a main character for the reader to connect with. Interestingly enough, Aisling serves as the centralized character even throughout the multiple perspectives. When perspectives shifted to another person, the reader was anxious to hear Aisling’s story resume. Her story was a complex trial of the tribulations of a human with the soul and power of a Goddess. The story takes the meaning of losing ones better half literally as she loses her twin sister, with whom she is emotionally and physically bound to. It can serve too symbolize the immense bonds of twins, sisters, or of family in general because the twin sisters literally complete one another. Aisling’s separation from her sister can serve to show how unhealthy a bounded and essential love can be.

One Woman, Eight Pairs of Hiking Boots, and Six Countries

sarah-marquis-wild-by-nature-700x400            Named the 2014 National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year, Sarah Marquis, author of Wild by Nature, is a Swiss adventurer and explorer. Born in 1972 in Northern Switzerland, Marquis always had a desire to explore the farthest corners of our world, and began fueling this desire to explore when she got a job working on a train at the age of 16. She then went on to canoe through Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada, hike the United States Pacific Crest Trail and hike across the US from border-to-border in four months. In 2002-03 she covered 8,700 miles across Australia, then in 2006 she hiked the Andes of South America followed by hiking part of the Andes from Chile to Machu Picchu. Needless to say, Marquis has a vast amount of experience with exploring and a deep familiarity with nature. But in 2010 she pushed herself to extreme in a 10,000 mile solo hike that stretched across 6 countries, beginning in Siberia and ending at “her” tree located on the Nullarbor Plain of Australia. This remarkable adventure is shared through an enticingly personal account in her book, Wild by Nature.

Marquis recounts her 3-year solo journey across the Gobi Desert from Siberia to Thailand in a stunningly simplistic way. Her humor, wit and close affiliation with nature fill every page and enable readers to experience the journey with her through a unique perspective. Rather than detailing the events of every day of her expedition, Marquis instead decides to focus on the colorful array of people and cultures that she encountered during her trek. By doing so she exposes readers first hand to the alienation, harassment and camaraderie that she herself endured. She is exposed to cultures were they express the least amount of emotion possible, cultures where she is viewed as a prostitute due to not being seen with a man. Marquis also experiences the frustration and fear of not being able to effectively communicate with those she encounters. But from these encounters she learns and grows, carrying these newly learned skills with her as she continues her adventure. Marquis shares her experiences from the perspective of a true outdoorswoman and of a vegetarian. This perspective plays a large role in her book as she spends a vast majority of her pages explaining her decision to be a vegetarian, describing the beauty of the flora and fauna that she encounters, and sharing her opinions on mankind’s connection to the natural world.

As a young woman who dreams of exploring the world, Sarah’s story has inspired me while also having temporarily sated my own desire for adventure. She faced the Mafia, drug dealers, dengue fever, a life-threatening abscess, and men on horseback who harassed her through out the days and nights of her journey. Her expedition does a phenomenal job showcasing the dangerous circumstances that a loan female explorer must sometimes endure as they traverse the world. She also show cases her own determination to complete this expedition solo as any time that she must be evacuated, due to military or medical emergencies, she resumes her expedition either at the place where she had been removed from or charts a new path to reach her next destination. Sarah’s respect for those she encounters and blatant appreciation of the small things makes her a phenomenal narrator of her adventure. Her book is divided, not so much but chapters, but by small headings where, with only a few words, she gives you an intriguing and occasionally vague idea of what she’ll be encountering next. At the end of each chapter she includes a simplistic map that gives readers, regardless of their familiarity with maps, a general and to the point idea of where she is as well as where she is going and how she got there. Her unique way of describing the animals she encountered often left me needing to reread the description as I thought I might have missed her identification of the animal. But she always shares the creature’s name, both the common name and the scientific one, after having introduced the creature to her reader in a nearly unfamiliar way.

If you are looking for a story of adventure with explicit details that will leave you with an accelerated heartbeat and a desire to buy a plane ticket, then this is not the book for you. As I stated earlier, Marquis does not detail every event of her entire adventure. In fact, I almost wish that she had talked a little bit more about her adventure. What she does instead is reflect on her life and her relation with nature while also introducing readers to the variety of cultures and individuals that she encountered throughout the ups and downs of her exploration. In terms of adventure novels, even those based on real expeditions, Marquis’ is unfamiliar due to her style and execution. This book provides you with a realistic woman who faces 6 different countries, all with many different variations of culture and language, with an endless supply of tea and an tireless love of what she’s doing. This book left me contemplating my life and my own desires to travel. It has also left me with the need to read more books like this one; that recount the amazing journey of one person across different parts of the world. For Marquis this adventure is not only about reaching her tree in Australia; it’s about the persistence, passion, human-ingenuity, and determination necessary to accomplish such an adventure.

Wild by Nature

Sarah Marquis

259 pages. Published by Thomas Dunne Books. Hardcover $26.99

The City of Mirrors – An Exciting End to the Passage Trilogy (Book Review)

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The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin is the amazing conclusion to The Passage trilogy, an apocalyptic (and post-apocalyptic) sci-fi horror series. The story begins with The Passage, continues with The Twelve, and comes to its completion in this novel.

In The Passage, readers witness the downfall of humanity when an experiment conducted on twelve death row inmates turns disastrous. The inmates were turned into “virals,” monstrous vampire-like creatures, who eventually escape the facility they are being kept in. The virals quickly slaughter the majority of the population, infecting one person for every ten killed, and force the survivors into small, protected communities. Many different characters are introduced, both from the time before the virals and many years after. The book also delves into the story of the first of the original Twelve virals. The Twelve focuses on the remaining Twelve, and the efforts made to destroy them. The storylines of the main characters from The Passage are continued, and more characters are brought in.

The City of Mirrors, after briefly catching up with the main characters, finally explores the backstory of Zero. Zero (as in “patient zero”) was the first person to contract the virus that turns people into virals. He is the main villain of this book, and the last one who needs to be defeated in order for humanity to no longer live as prey. Interestingly, Cronin indicates Zero’s POV by switching to first person, while the rest of the characters are written in third person. Zero has a plan, which is not completely clear to the readers until it is in full swing. After a couple hundred pages of limited action, where the characters are lulled into the false belief that the virals are finally gone, the novel abruptly becomes filled with action and bloodshed. After witnessing this carnage and the actions taken to save the remaining survivors, several of the most major characters take on the task of defeating Zero. There is an epic fight in New York City (the “City of Mirrors”), and at last the journey of the main characters is at an end. A rather lengthy epilogue that takes place a thousand years after the virals first took over wraps up both the book and the series.

Personally, I absolutely loved both this book and the trilogy as a whole. Even though The Passage remains my favorite of the three, The City of Mirrors is a close second. While the series is rather long, I felt that it was definitely worth my time. It was both gripping and beautifully written. Unfortunately, the beginning of this book was a little slow. There isn’t a whole lot of action until around page 300, although we do hear the backstory of Zero during that time. There are also several occurrences that set up the next part and keep the reader’s anticipation up. From Part IV “Zero Hour” on the plot really picks up, to the point where I read the rest of the book in a few days.

There are a rather overwhelming number of characters in this series, and every book keeps adding (and killing off) more. Many of them get developed backgrounds, which serves to deepen their character as well as weave all the stories together. It can sometimes be a challenge to remember who everyone is and what their relationships are with the other characters. As such, it is difficult to read these books with large gaps of time in between (I had to reread the first two books before I could jump into this one, or I would have been rather lost). However, I did not mind having to read all the books in succession because it made it easier to see how masterfully all the plotlines are connected. Seemingly minor characters from the first book, such as Zero, become much more important in the other novels. Others are present from the start to the finish, like Amy, who’s entire story spans over a thousand years and is interwoven with many of the other characters’. Even though the point of view switches between different characters and the plot hops back and forth through time (which can be somewhat confusing at times), everything in this book is connected in some way. This is not a light read, but it is a captivating one.

In general, I quite enjoyed The City of Mirrors. It is a satisfying conclusion to a wonderful series, and it was nice to see how each character’s story ends. Cronin does a good job developing his numerous characters and building an extensive timeline of exciting events. It’s not terribly frightening, but some parts can be a bit creepy and/or gory, so I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who doesn’t enjoy that kind of thing. This book (and series) has exciting, complex storylines with interesting characters. I would highly recommend it for anyone interested in apocalyptic storylines, or people who like sci-fi and fantasy elements. However, this book would probably be very confusing to someone who has not read the first two books of the series, so it would be best to start with The Passage.

The City of Mirrors

Justin Cronin

598 pages. Published by Ballantine Books. $18.63 (Hardcover), $10.78 (Paperback), $14.88 (Kindle) on Amazon.