Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Fly By Night

          I’m going to take a moment to review one of my favorite books. It's nothing recent, in fact it has been out for some time.... but it is 100% quality. 
          It is the kind of book I want to sing the praises of on the roof tops and plug to every person I know. It’s called Fly By Night, and it is by a woman named Francis Hardinge. It is about a young girl named Mosca who lives in a Victorian-inspired world where books and reading have been banned. Mosca is one of the few people who can read, but that is a dangerous skill to have. 
When she runs away from her cruel uncle, she meets the wordy con man, Eponymous Clint, and gets wrapped up in a very different world and has many adventures.
          There is also a cantankerous goose named Saracen, so you know it is going to be a fun ride. 
          Hardinge is an author who deserves a lot more recognition. Her writing is wonderfully whimsical, the wordplay out of this world, and extremely funny to boot. Reading this book is a great pleasure not only for the unique characters and interesting premise, but for the fact that every page is steeped in the most colorful, witty language I have read in a long time. 
        The story is a good old fashioned rollicking adventure, but it remains clever and multi-faceted, throughout. The world is whimsical but well built. This is a book that, for me, is an essential in any good personal library. 
        So do yourself a favor. Next time you are longing for a entertaining, smart, all around delightful read, go find Fly By Night. Go on. I'm waiting... 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review--"And The Mountains Echoed"

     I have long been a fan of author, Khaleed Hosseini, of “Kite Runner” fame, and his latest book, “And The Mountains Echoed” didn’t disappoint. Larger in scope than “Kite Runner”, it follows several interwoven characters through their lives, as they journey across the globe, from Kabul to Paris, to Greece, and America.
      In spite of being at times confusing, with sudden transitions and junctures, Hosseini manages, with his capacious talent for writing, to maintain the story arc throughout. The concept of family becomes intriguing, as does the idea of “home”, and what constitutes one’s cultural heritage. In the modern world, where very few people stay in one place, the lines are becoming blurred, and this idea is explored beautifully, with all the characters impacted, as in real life, by both internal and external forces, that help determine who they become as people.
     Poetic and meditative, with a gentle pace, “And The Mountains Echoed” is the perfect book for a rainy evening, when one is feeling introspective. Poor a cup of tea, put your feet up, and enjoy.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review--"Sharp Objects"

     Fans of Gillian Flynn's popular thriller, "Gone Girl" might have seen "Sharp Objects" on the shelf and wanted to give it a read. Be warned--deeper, darker mysteries await. Less psychological head game than "Gone Girl", and more macabre and disturbing, "Sharp Objects" is not for the prudish or righteous.
     Flawed characters abound, and ugly lifestyles loom large, not sparing the heroine, a reporter returning to her small, insular hometown to investigate some child murders. Flynn manages to build characters that seem both real and impossibly imaginary, characters whose foibles and imperfections become normal and acceptable.... a world where if everyone is crazy, then no one is.
     Ugly, violent, and warped are all fitting terms for a book where the characters themselves are, metaphorically-speaking, the "sharp objects" in question. Reading the book is kind of like witnessing a terrible accident. You want to look away, but you are compelled to gaze on in horror as circumstances unfold.
     Though I don't know if I call myself a fan of Flynn's writing, I can certainly say she bewitches readers with her words, drawing unsuspecting souls into a world where everything is askew and the way out becomes muddy and hidden. Only when she is done with you, does Flynn spit you out, sullied and shaken, yet oddly ready to return for more.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Review--Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi

Laughter, Grace, and Yoga, Oh My!

Anxiety.... it’s safe to say that every American suffers from it, at least from time to time. Attention Deficit Disorder is an affliction suffered by fewer, but one that is more frequently diagnosed in our modern culture newly fascinated with instantaneous information and governed by shorter attentions spans. 
More often than not, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is managed with drugs, joining the ranks of diseases and disorders for which an extremely expensive little pill is the promised cure. Occasionally, though, people try to manage their afflictions in a more holistic way, through diet, exercise, and other alternatives that are attempts to forego the medicated path. These attempts are met with mixed results, depending on the individual, the condition being managed, and the methods used. 
Eastern philosophies and practices have gained an increasing foothold in the western world, and meditation, bikram, and lotus position, are no longer merely exotic terms found only inside the boundaries of a bohemian commune in the rolling hills of Northern California. Yoga has hit the mainstream and every YMCA features a myriad of classes, and specialty yoga centers are on every street corner.
In his belly-achingly funny book,  “Adventures of a Garden State Yogi”, author Brian Leaf immerses the reader in the world of yoga as though narrating an episode of Portlandia. Barely two paragraphs into this charming memoir-style self-help book, one’s stomach muscles are aching from laughter as though one has spent the last half hour in plank pose. 
Yoga literacy is not necessary to enjoy Leaf’s account of his journey through the discovery of the discipline in 1989, which was, according to the author, “... before many guys did yoga. Men can now hug and cry and do yoga and drink white wine and wear an apron and cook free-range chicken picatta. But in 1989, we were pretty much hemmed in between Al Bundy and Magnum P.I.--limited to watching televised sports, eating large pieces of meat, and drinking cheap beer stored in a small fridge next to the couch.”
Landing upon a yoga class as an elective at Georgetown University (by-passing the less “exotic” choices of jazz dance, squash, and step aerobics), Leaf quickly discovers that he is exactly where he is meant to be. “Oskar’s yoga class touched the right chord and made my soul sing. I had signed up for yoga on a lark, but even in that first class, I knew what I had found.” 
What he had found, in addition to an elixir for his blossoming ADD, was a natural remedy for his colitis, which had flared up regularly since high school. Detailed in a humorous and (very) self-deprecating style, the author highlights the travails of his stress-induced gastrointestinal nightmares in a Seinfeld-esque journey to cure his chronic ailments and to, ultimately, find inner peace. 

Part road trip memoir, part spiritual guidance manual, “Adventures of a Garden State Yogi” has one “ommmming” right along with Leaf, a humorous guru who does not take himself or the practice of yoga too seriously. He performs “serious” yoga, but he clearly left his ego back in the 80’s with the “very tight spandex, neon sweatbands, leg warmers, and feather hair.” 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Review: Fever

    Typhoid Mary. It's a term that has been used enough in our culture to be familiar, but what is not commonplace is the source of the term, the real woman who bore that infamous title. I'll be the first to admit that I was unaware of the derivation of the phrase. I honestly had never really thought about it. Clearly, though, author Mary Beth Keane did give it some thought, and has written "Fever", her novel based on the tragic circumstance of Irish immigrant, Mary Mallon, who became famous in the early 20th Century for nothing more than not getting sick.
     Typhoid was rampant in the filthy urban environments of the East Coast during the Industrial Revolution. Little was understood about the spreading of disease, and the idea of cleanliness and hygiene had not taken root. Keane's fascinating account of the capture and imprisonment of the young cook, Mary Mallon, reads well and paints a vivid picture of her unfortunate life, in which the public health department of New York determined she was a threat to society, a carrier of Typhoid, putting her in confinement on an island in the East River.
    Mary Mallon emerges as a very tangible character, a strong woman with a talent for cooking and a caring nature. But, her life is turned upside down by the fear of the community, which find it is easier to hide her away as a pariah, convinced she is a health hazard.
    "Fever" brings the streets of New York alive, and reminds one that history is not just names without faces attached. Lessons can be learned by digging a little deeper and discovering the true stories beneath the names. This was a joy to read.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: The Great Gatsby

Is The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, great? 

The Great Gatsby is an incredibly well-known book. Practically every high school student is required to read it, and I am no exception.
I tried to go into this book with an open mind, seeing as the people I have met and talked to about it seem to either love it and think it is one of the most brilliant books ever to be written--or they hate it. With a passion. So where do I lie on the spectrum? 
The Great Gatsby is set in the roaring twenties, and the setting feels very rich. It is narrated by Nick Carraway, and it is about the fashionable and careless world of the time, and a very mysterious man: Jay Gatsby.
The book is written in a rhythmic, decadent style. Fitzgerald must have loved his thesaurus. It has a rather pretentious and over written feel, at least to me, but that almost enhances the tone of the book. I think it works perfectly, and some of the passages are quite beautiful. Considering I have been quoting the book as well (much to the annoyance of my mother) you could say that I liked the writing quite a lot. 
The characters of The Great Gatsby are not very likable. In fact, I did not find a single one of them to be a good person. And yet they are still compelling to read about, and despite their selfish, shallow ways, they feel realistic. 
The book was strangely intriguing to me. I can see why it can be considered boring, but much like with a soap opera, I was fascinated in spite of myself. I loved the dynamics between all these horrible people, and I loved the drama of the story. It was terribly pretentious and yet terribly entertaining. Fitzgerald even manages to interject some great humor into the short novel, and I found myself chuckling throughout the book, which I did not expect to happen. 
That being said, I didn’t love it. It won’t appear on my shelf of favorites, and I do think it is a bit overrated. There was something about America’s famous novella about the American dream that I found difficult to connect with. Perhaps it was the characters, who are not likable. Perhaps it was the plot, or the themes, or even the writing. Whatever the reason, it is never going to end up as something that I recommend to everyone I see, or will herald as one of the greatest books I have read. I liked it, and I think it made some very interesting points, but that is all the impression it made. 
Long story short, should you read it? If you want to see what all the fuss is about, sure. You may love it, or you may hate it, or simply be interested like me. But I think considering the impact the book has on pop culture, it is definitely worth reading, and beyond that, it is a good book. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Review--The Summer of France

    Who wouldn't like to spend a summer in the hills of Provence? It's the dream of many and the reality of a few. Paulita Kincer's charming escapist novel, "The Summer of France" will appeal to readers who envision themselves escaping to the picturesque environs of Southern France. Seemingly part homage to "Under the Tuscan Sun" and "A Year in Provence types of travel journals, Ms. Kincer's novel goes further, adding in layers of intrigue and family drama, and even a little hanky-panky.... this is France, after all.
    Easily read in an afternoon, this is the perfect book to take to the beach or the poolside, as you dream yourself away to the Cote D'Azur, even if you can't get there in person. Escapism, in every sense of the word.