The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

[26] Birds of a Lesser Paradise

birds-of-lesser

Poppy, better than any of us, understands the urge to have what you must have. She can still wring what she wants from the world. It has listened to her cries and delivered. She still trusts the raw pull of desire. One day it will tear her away from us, take her down a dirt road to a place she does not recognize, and there she will make her home. Away from everything she understands, and close to everything she wants. – “The Two-Thousand Dollar Sock”

You know, for wanting to get off on the right foot reading more short stories in 2013, I really don’t know if I could have picked a better place to start. Not only did Megan Mayhew Bergman put so much effort in to her words (not the bad kind of effort, the good kind – the kind that means she cared, and cared deeply, about each word she chose and where she chose to put it) and in to the themes that ran through her stories, that I really wish I could buy copies to cut up so that I could had out different stories to different people at all sorts of different times. Because there is something within each of us that is within each of these stories. Anyone who has ever had a mother, lost a lover, or been deeply connected to an animal, will find multiple points with which to relate to in Megan’s stories.

Most of my favorite stories have already been talked about here on the blog. The only one that hasn’t is a special story that was included in the paperback release of the collection – a story entitled “Phoenix” – that I loved, but that I was having far too hard a time coming up with the words for! All I can say is that, if you don’t have the collection yet, try and get your hands on the paperback because the extra story makes it SO worth it! That said, I did try and only talk about the stories that I really, really loved, or that for some reason just stuck out to me more than the rest. I wrote about, like, maybe half of the stories in the collection, but that shouldn’t be any kind of reflection on the quality of these stories. For me, there just wasn’t as much to grab on to and hold to my heart – characters that didn’t jump out as much and plots that tended to blend in to the woodwork. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be something there for you – that’s the magic in Megan’s stories.

As for the whole animal thing, I feel it warrants just a bit of discussion. Because, on one level, this is totally a book about animals. Each chapter has an animal (or lack of animal or group of animals) that features prominently in to the plot or some aspect of character development. Once when I was writing my reviews (which, I’ll admit, are usually written ahead) I wrote their order on a Post-It and it read “cow story. wolf story. whale story.” But they’re not just stories about animals, either. They’re about the relationship between humans and animals, and even between the human and the animal within us – never have I been so brutally reminded just how animalistic humans can be than when I was reading my way through this collection.

On the whole, I would have to say that you need to pick this up. I dare you to read this book and not give your puppy or kitty and extra squeeze, to not call your mom just to say hello. It’s far too early in the year to say whether or not this will be one of my top reads, but I can say without a doubt that it’s one of the best short story collections I’ve read in ages, and quite possibly ever. One more shout out to Literary Disco for pointing out such a gem of a collection!

Rating: Hell yeah!

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[21] “Saving Face”

wolf

There were no promises, no obligations between living things, she thought. Not even humans. Just raw need hidden by a game of make-believe.

This story is loaded with the kind of questions to which there are no answers and which, if allowed, will drive you mad – what if our narrator, Lila, had waited? Hadn’t been alone that night? Had given the wolf more anesthetic before beginning a small operation? Maybe she wouldn’t have been attacked, her beauty and top lip forever gone in a few short seconds.

Don’t worry, that’s no spoiler. It’s talked about early in the story. Another from Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Birds of a Lesser Paradise, the animal at hand this time is, primarily, the wolf who attacked Lila one night when he awoke from the local anesthetic Lila used before attempting to pull the quills from his muzzle. It’s this wolf who takes away Lila’s sense of beauty, a sense she’s had her entire life, a sense that, now gone, forces her to realize just how easy being pretty made life. She also begins to question the lines between love and pity after a tragedy, and, in a way, whether we need the love of strangers more than we need the love of those closest to us.

However, there is another animal involved, and I think that this second animal is perhaps the even more important one in the story. Part of Lila’s job is traveling to a local prison that is also a self-sustaining farm. The state, facing budget cuts, wants to close the farm and calls Lila in to assess how much they could get for the livestock on the property. While there, a prisoner named Romulus brings to Lila’s attention a sick calf who, basically, won’t survive if Lila doesn’t take her off the property. It’s this sick calf that forces Lila to confront her thoughts about compassion, about the idea of ‘doing what’s best’ for an animal which, in Lila’s mind, means no longer forcing those around her to pretend to love her. I also think it’s awesome that a character named Romulus quasi-attacks her to get her in to the barn in order to see this calf, thus dealing with her feelings: Megan is able to echo the same kind of feelings that Lila’s first wolf attack brought to the surface. It’s a subtle repetition that lends a really sad poeticism to the story as a whole.

While I didn’t like it quite as much as I liked “The Cow that Milked Herself”, I thought that the main reason for this is that I found myself sympathizing with the other narrator much more than Lila. While I thought Megan did an amazing job outlining the thought process that brought Lila to where she is at the end of the story, I just don’t know if I agree with the path the character chose to take. It’s definitely worth a read, even so, even if just for the discussion on the important of physical beauty!

Rating: Hell Yeah!

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[19] Beautiful Ruins

beautiful ruins

Stories are nations, empires. They can last as long as Ancient Rome or as short as the Third Reich. Story-nations rise and decline. Governments changes, trends rise, and they go on conquering their neighbors. Like the Roman Empire, the Epic Poem stretched for centuries as far as the world.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (who is, actually, a dude, contrary to my initial belief) is a contender for the 2013 Tournament of Books – and the second Tournament book I’ve read, the other one being The Fault in Our Stars. No lie – I loved this one WAY better than TFIOS, but I think I might be in the minority on this one (or at least, don’t think that Beautiful Ruins will end up beating out TFIOS in the long run).

This story is a story about so many things. It flashes back in forth in time from Italy in the 60’s to Hollywood in the present day, and it offers such great commentary on things like reality TV, our obsession with movie stars, the magic of the early movies, as well as larger issues like regret, doubt, love, and creativity. Plot wise, we follow both Italian hotelier Pasquale as he meets, falls in love with, and loses a woman he knows only as Dee Moray. Dee Moray who, for a brief period of time, has an affair with Richard Burton and is starring alongside Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra. Flash forward to the 21st century and we’re with Claire, production assistant to aging and desperate producer Michael Deane, the ‘Deane of Hollywood’. She’s about to quit, betting fate that unless one last good movie pitch walks in – enter Shane Wheeler, who sets in motion a chain of events that reunites Dee Moray and Pasquale almost 40 years after they saw each other, a chain that effects ever character involved, with beautiful language and a plot that pushes forward.

But aren’t all great quests folly? El Dorado and the Fountain of Youth and the search for intelligent life in the cosmos– we know what’s out there. It’s what isn’t that truly compels us. Technology may have shrunk the epic journey to a couple of short car rides and regional jet lags– four states and twelve hundred miles traversed in an afternoon– but true quests aren’t measured in time or distance anyway, so much as in hope. There are only two good outcomes for a quest like this, the hope of the serendipitous savant– sail for Asia and stumble on America– and the hope of scarecrows and tin men: that you find out you had the thing you sought all along.

To be honest, there were some slower points in the novel, and while I enjoyed the different media included in the book (there is the discarded first chapter from Michael Deane’s memoir, as well as the first chapter of a book by aging writer Alvis Bender, and, of course, the screen pitch for the movie Donner! (a hopelessly depressing movie about the Donner party that Shane Wheeler brings to pitch to Michael Deane), sometimes they felt a bit jerky in their transitions between these portions and the narrative flow of the other chapters. I also had some issues with characters (Michael Deane is reprehensible, and I felt that some of the characters stories lines overlapped in a way that seemed too fortuitous, not to mention the sheer cast of characters that Jess isn’t afraid to return to), but on the whole I thought that this book was a really great social commentary on the way we’ve changed the way we view our entertainers and the world in which we live, entertainment wise. I felt like it was one of the better contemporary novels I’ve read in quite some time, and it left me feeling excited about diving in to the rest of the Tournament book list!

Rating: Hell yeah!

PS: If you’re interested in seeing even more discussion of the Tournament of Books books, then I urge you to check out Book Riot’s commentary on the competition, especially the discussion of Beautiful Ruins that they did!

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[16] Start Here: Read Your Way into 25 Amazing Authors

Start Here

I first saw this book advertised earlier this week on the bottom of Bookriot’s RSS feed, and I basically immediately went to Amazon and, clicky-clicky, had the book in my possession minutes later. And, yet again, I’m SO THANKFUL for that “Buy it Now!” button, because foe $2.99 I’ve got 25 succinct but loving introductions for 25 authors – some of whom I’ve never heard of, and some of whom I’ve been looking forward to breaking in to very soon (probably even sooner now, if we’re being honest). Some of my favorite Book Riot contributors/bloggers contributed chapters (a million cheers for Amanda Nelson and Kit Steinkellner!) and the whole thing is edited by Jeff O’Neal and Rebecca Joines Schinsky, the genius minds behind Book Riot. The whole things was just really lovely, because it was kind of like looking in to 25 different windows while all these contributors happen to be having loving conversations about some of their favorite authors.

The book covers a really nice range of genres, styles, and time periods (as well as ‘classical’ and ‘commercial’ authors, if that’s a distinction you make a lot in your mind – don’t worry, I won’t judge you for it) and I marked titles by Italo Calvino, Philip K. Dick. E.M. Forster, John Irving, Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, Herman Melville, Arthur Miller, Alice Munro, Edgar Allen Poe, Richard Russo, and Zadie Smith – and that’s not even half of the chapters that are available to pluck titles from! This may not be the kind of book that other people will sit down and read cover to cover, but I get kind of a huge literary crush on books about books, and it’s especially thrilling to see the voices of people you “know” (which, as we all know, really means “have read for years via the internet”) in print telling you to go read great books. And, regardless of how many sessions you read it in, it’s a great book to have on hand, especially for when you have a vague idea of where you’d like to start, reading-wise, and just need a bit more help jumping in to a definitive work!

If there is one thing that I wish the book had done a bit more of, it would be that I wish they had expanded the number of titles recommended for each author – most stuck to a three to four book range, with the occasional extra title thrown in for good measure. For some authors, I totally get this, but for others – especially like Dickens or Stephen King, who JUST WROTE ALL THE BOOKS OH MY GOD ITS SICKENING – I felt like I just would have liked a bit more of a selection, or a bit of a more extended discussion of the diversity of the titles and which might be better for some situations than others (because of length, genre, tone, etc.). But, then again, that’s not really what this book was about, so it’s really just me being kind of a bitch and stomping my feet and yelling

I want it nowBUT I WANT IT NOW!!!!!!

I really did enjoy seeing so many titles and authors I’d read, as well as the dozens I haven’t, and like so many of my Kindle books, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to get a hard copy of this one as soon as I can!

Rating: Hell yeah!

PS: GO BUY THIS BOOK. YOU WILL NOT REGRET. There. I have unashamedly plugged this book, which no one has asked me to do but which I will do because I think this book was the cats pajamas!

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What I Spent Over a Year of My Life Doing

So, I don’t know how many of you know this, but there is this thing out there and it’s called Game of Thrones. And it’s this big, sci-fi-y deal and there is a TV show and Peter Dinklage and about a million pages in the first five (of an eventual seven) books. I started with the first volume, Game of Thrones, in January of 2012, shortly after I graduated college and before I got my first ‘real’ job – which, coincidentally, I only kept for a few months – and here I was, all fine and dandy and thinking “I love Sean Bean! I like fantasy. What could really happen here”. Little did I know that Sean Bean wouldn’t be around long, and that, like, 4908 pages (yes, that’s an exact count, given Goodreads pages numbers) later I’d be just wrapping up the series.

I’ve been working on what to say about this whole Herculean reading experience, and have drafted Song of Ice and Fire posts three or four times, but I’m never sure what to say. The plot summary is daunting. The characters are daunting. I don’t even want to think about attempting a scholarly analysis of these books (although I definitely think that these books would benefit from some scholarly conversation on women, power, loyalty, and family, to name a few), so here I am. I just finished up Dance with Dragons, the fifth, so I’m kind of out of stall time to write about what I spent a year of my life doing reading. Having exhausted my other options, I shall simply have to default to my funny GIF raving – let’s begin, shall we?

nights watch

Oh, George R.R. Martin. Let me just start with the list of thoughts that first come to mind when I try to encapsulate the awestriking literary clusterfuck that is Song of Ice and Fire: Sansa Stark is a twit. Poor Reek. WHY is there so much raping? I mean, I get it – psuedo-quasi English-esque monarchy epic in which there is a constant war happening tends to lend itself to lots of rape-age. I don’t approve of it, but I get it. But this book? If it’s not a whore, it’s a rape, and 99% of all the wives in this book end up either dead or are totally vapid! It’s a little frustrating. Moving on from that…this man knows how to craft a twist. I mean, you’ve got to be to fill this many pages with a plot that keeps them turning. There where times when I just wanted to be like DAMN IT, MAN, CAN’T YOU JUST STOP KILLING ALL THE PEOPLE!

oh-the-huge-manatee

(side note: that’s basically my favorite picture EVER, mostly because it’s applicable in all situations anywhere ever). Let’s chat a bit about the characters, now that the mind-dump portion of the post is over. With these books, all the characters fall in to either one of two camps: ermaghadILOVEYOU or ewwwwwwwwwwwwwcreepdickbastard. There are those that may be somewhat fair to middling (basically the only two people I’m thinking of here are Stannis and Melisandre, for whom I have nothing but ‘meh’ fellings), but for the most part it’s either love them (Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon Snow, Davos, Jorah Mormont, Cersei Lannister in a kind of fucked up way, Bran Stark, Varys) or hate them (the rest of the Lannisters, Arya, Sansa, Littlefinger, Samwell Tarly, the Tyrell’s, and Sandor Clegane). Of course, there are like a bajillion minor and side characters, most of whom I tend to skim over, but, for the most part, the characters that Martin has created are easy to love, enjoyable to hate, and when they surprise us, it’s not always for the better.

outside bra

As much as I mock, and although there truly is much that is mockable about this series, I do think that there is something to be said for books that are good enough to keep a reader interested, engaged, and to keep the material fresh enough that the reader is kept coming back for all five – and, when they’re out – seven books. George didn’t quite ace this every time (see the ENTIRETY of book four, A Feast for Crows, which was THE most painful reading experience I’ve, like, ever had. EVER.), but for the most part I think he did a really good job. And, it has to be said, I don’t think that the TV show is all that bad. In fact, it’s pretty much the shit.

tumblr_mb0sxsXxto1qjsk0wo6_r1_250As I said before, I love Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister the most out of all the things I’ve already said I love in this post. I mean, I think that not only is he a dashingly handsome man (my husband, as a matter of fact, agrees) but his acting chops, especially his comedic timing, has really taken the show to a new level, and kept me on the lookout for Tyrion’s chapters throughout the whole of the novel. Of course, Emilia Clarke does an AMAZING job as the hottie-with-dragons Daenerys Targaryen (did I mention how totally lady-boner-ific Emilia Clarke is?!) and the rest of the cast just fills out so well that, to be honest, its kind of more fun to watch the show than to read the books. Kind of. But just a little.

I’ve written almost 1,000 words of my own about these books, with narry a plot summary in sight. Which is fine by me. At the end of the day, these are those tomes of rather amazing fantasy, in which there is much pillaging, pirating, raping, political intrigue, spurned lovers, revenge gone wrong, revenge gone right, and all kinds of secrets hidden behind smiles and shadows on the wall and things that were dead that come back to life – and things that were alive are suddenly dead. It kept me on my toes for over a year (minus the few dark months of Feast for Crows) and in the end, so far all I have to say to Mr. Martin is:

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Rating: Overall, hell yeah!

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[12] One for the Books

People who prefer e-books…think that books merely take up space. This is true, but so do your children and Prague and the Sistine Chapel.

Oh, Joe. Whaddaya know? Apparently, this Joe knows all about books – which ones to read, which ones to NOT read, and of course how to read and not read them. I loved this book, but I’m left at a loss as to what to say about it. It was a great, quick non-fiction read, and was a book about books. Thus, it was and is basically gold. I’d give you the Goodreads synopsis, but this time I like mine better:

Books are awesome. We should all read books, but not books that other people recommend (unless you have great friends with rare and amazing tastes) and not ebooks, which of course are not nearly as good as real books. Books are special and life is short, so read good ones and surround yourself with good ones. Read widely but personally, but not ebooks. Also, fuck ebooks.

And there you have it folks. Joe Queenan in a nutshell. I think that Joe most likely has his right to have such a crotchety opinion (“Joe Queenan is a humorist, critic and author from Philadelphia who graduated from Saint Joseph’s University. He has written for numerous publications, such as Spy Magazine, TV Guide, Movieline, The Guardian and the New York Times Book Review. He has written eight books, including Balsamic Dreams, a scathing critique of the Baby Boomers, Red Lobster, White Trash, and the Blue Lagoon, a tour of low-brow American pop culture and Imperial Caddy, a fairly scathing view of Dan Quayle and the American Vice-Presidency. Queenan’s work is noted for his caustic wit.” – and yes, that I legit picked that shit up straight from Goodreads) and this whole experience was kind of like sitting near your really well read and literate grandpa while he talks about how good things were in the ‘good ole’ days’ and how everything now is headed to hell in a hand basket. Sure, some of the time I felt like what Ole’ Joe was saying seemed a little harsh for my way of reading – I for one love giving and receiving book recommendations, as I believe it’s my job to take those recommendations and narrow down to the ones that fit for me – but he’s not exactly trying to say that his way is the only way. Maybe the best way, but not the only way. I don’t necessarily agree, as I have an e-reader (a couple, actually, with perhaps another one coming soon – ah, the technological rat race), I think this about sums up what its like to sit down and have a 250 page adventure with Grandpa Joe:

Electronic books are ideal for people who value the information contained in them, or who have vision problems, or who like to read on the subway, or who do not want other people to see how they are amusing themselves, or who have storage and clutter issues, but they are useless for people who are engaged in an intense, lifelong love affair with books. Books that we can touch; books that we can smell; books that we can depend on.

Rating: Hell yeah!

EDIT:: Amanda from Dead White Guys and Book Riot didn’t come away with the same feelings I did, but she makes some really valid and HOLY SHIT HILARIOUS points in her GIF reply to One for the Books!

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[08] Rocket Boys

Growing up, I was never a science kid. Anyone who knows me knows this isn’t at all surprising, as I am even less of a math person – give me English, history, or the social sciences any day of the week! But reading Rocketboys was the chance to see what it would be like to indeed be a science kid, the kind of person who can look at pages full of equations, diagrams, and numbers and see not chaos, but something supremely beautiful, bordering on magic. That’s the kind of experience Homer Hickam Jr. tells in Rocket Boys, a book that was turned in to the AH-MAZING Jake Gyllenhaal movie October Sky. Homer and his friend Odell, Roy Lee, Quentin, and Sherman were all teenagers in 1950’s West Virginia, living in a small mining town named Coalwood, deep in the valleys of the Appalachian mountains. Fascinated by space and the launch of Sputnik satellite, Homer and his friend learn everything they can about building rockets – through trial and error, self-teaching from textbooks, and the support of a speculative and unsure, but ultimately loyal, community. The boys end up winning the National Science Fair, and many of them go on to careers involving the space program.

This book made me interested in rockets and physics and chemistry in a way that no book has since I read The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier. Not only does Homer do a great job of breaking down the science and taking the reader through his thought process as he and the boys tried and failed and tried again. But more pervasive throughout the book is the feeling that Homer has of not belonging, of being a part of a community that just can’t understand why and how a boy like Homer Hickam is supposed to go to college and join the likes of Warner Vaun Braun in the space program. The feeling of being suffocated by the community and physical geography around you is made crystal clear, as Homer describes time and time again how the mountains that surround his village, at once beautiful and comforting, are also a physical manifestation of his feelings of being trapped in a place that he desperately wants to escape.

By the end of the book, Homer comes to realize that it isn’t that he doesn’t belong in Coalwood – indeed, the people of his town made him who he was, that from them he learned resilience, hard work, and supreme loyalty. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the tension established between Homer, his father Homer Sr., his mother Elsie, and the Coalwood Mining Co. Homer’s father is unable to show any kind of sensitivity towards his younger son, who he can’t understand and has nothing in common with (as opposed to Homer’s older brother, Jim, a football star). Homer’s mother tries, and loves Homer, and hates the way his father treats him, but is ultimately the loyal wife. Homer Sr., however, is a company man, and will do any and everything the company asks. As the book progresses, we begin to see that there’s more to Homer Sr. than meets the eye, but we never quite come to a place of complete redemption where he is concerned.

None of these thoughts are coherent. I blame lack of sleep for that – the semester just finished up, but I promised myself I’d get this up before I go hibernate take a nap. Long story short: West Virginia sounds beautiful; coal mining would suck; space is cool, but I still am really bad at science; this is one of the few books that also made an awesome movie.

Rating: Hell yeah!

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[07] The Fault in Our Stars

image

‘All salvation is temporary,’ Augustus shot back. ‘I bought them a minute. Maybe that’s the minute that buys them an hour that buys them a year. No one’s going to buy them forever, Hazel Grace, but my life bought them a minute. And that’s not nothing.’

Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace are both 17 years old, and both have cancer. They meet one another one week at a support group, and begin the process of changing each others lives. Augustus uses his Make a Wish to take Hazel to Amsterdam to meet her favorite author, to get questions about her favorite book answered. The author is a lout, drunk and cruel, and the two leave the authors house without any answers. Their trip isn’t wasted, however: they fall in love, have sex, and Gus tells Hazel he’s no longer in remission.

Once they’re back in the States, Gus quickly goes from bad to worse, and he has to leave Hazel behind. But not before offering Hazel’s favorite author a little redemption, and not without leaving Hazel a eulogy worthy of both her and Augustus.

You clench your teeth. You look up. You tell yourself that if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but A Sadness in their lives, and you must not become a mere sadness, so you will not cry, and you say all of this to yourself while looking up at the ceiling, and then you swallow even though your throat does not want to close and you look at the person who loves you and smile.

The kids in this book are all smart. Like, smart talkers in the vein of The Gilmore Girls or Dawson’s Creek. And while normally this annoys me to no end, I felt here it bordered on just possible enough that I enjoyed it – I found it endearing without being too obnoxious. However, although I really did love the characters, and felt myself being sucked in to the story, I’m not sure how I feel about the novel now that I’m on the other side of it. Of course it was romantic and sad and made me ‘le sigh’ – its a book about terns with cancer who fall in love. Its a well-written Lurlene McDaniels book. I also appreciated and loved the sense of humorous that John Green managed to keep alive (pun intended, obvs) throughout the book:

‘I don’t think you’re dying,’ I said. ‘I think you’ve just got a touch of cancer.’

But, for a book that spends a great deal of time and glib attention talking about stereotypical cancer books that heroize their children heroes, the book does essentially just that. Hazel and Augustus are ultimately the brave, kind, cancer-fighting people they mock; even if they do curse and have sex and make mean jokes about each other. The book makes some interesting differentiations between Hazel, who has always been a terminal patient, and Augustus, who went in to and came out of remission – how that difference effects their views, their hopes, and especially Augustus’s ceaseless obsession with feeling that he has to do something to make his life and death mean something.

Rating: Okay, with some Hell Yeah! bits

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[05] Prisoner of Heaven

Believe it or not, Prisoner of Heaven is the first Carlos Ruiz Zafon book I’ve ever read (although I’ve heard that The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game are both incredibly fantastic), the first book I’ve sought out especially because it’s a BIT (book in translation), and the first book I’ve ever read set in Spain. I know. You can now pick your jaw up off the floor. I assure you, all of those things are true. But I’m SO GLAD that, even with all of those things being true, I’m SO GLAD that I read this book. Fermín is one of the better characters/narrators that I’ve come across in a really long time.

GOODREADS TAKE IT AWAY:

arcelona,1957. It is Christmas, and Daniel Sempere and his wife Bea have much to celebrate. They have a beautiful new baby son named Julian, and their close friend Fermín Romero de Torres is about to be wed. But their joy is eclipsed when a mysterious stranger visits the Sempere bookshop and threatens to divulge a terrible secret that has been buried for two decades in the city’s dark past. His appearance plunges Fermín and Daniel into a dangerous adventure that will take them back to the 1940’s and the dark early days of Franco’s dictatorship. The terrifying events of that time launch them on a journey fraught with jealousy, suspicion, vengeance, and lies, a search for the truth that will put into peril everything they love and ultimately transform their lives.

This book is one of those books that has a structure that, while it’s done ALL THE TIME, I don’t even care because I love it with a million loves. It starts with Daniel, who quickly meets a stranger and realizes that something right isn’t happening. He then talks to Fermín, and through Fermín we’re taken back to his time in prison under a despicable and petty man named Valls, into a place where people we’re told are criminals live in damp, dank cages that soon rob them of either their humanity or their sanity. David Martin, the author Fermín meets in prison, who asks of him a promise that changes the entire scope of both Fermín and Daniel’s life, is described as the kind of man who I wish I could meet in real life – the kind who, when he looses his mind, looses it in to words and books and the fictional life he creates. So Martin, along with Fermín, quickly became two of my favorite characters of late, and definitely my favorite characters in the book.

I’m curious what it is I’ve missed in the first few books – which, of course, means that I’m already on the road to getting them read. I have a feeling that there is something rather large/important I’m missing about The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, but nothing that kept me from being able to understand the plot of Prisoner of Heaven. It’s more like there’s this feeling that there’s a bigger picture that’s already been painted, only I can’t see the horizon line so the whole painting’s a little…off. That’s probably a really bad metaphor. But there were a couple of moments in the book, especially later on, where I was just kind of like “what?!”. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand – the plot was formatted brilliantly, I think – but it was more that I didn’t understand EVERYTHING.

I think one of the most enjoyable parts of the book for me was all of the incredibly witty, incredibly off-the-cuff revolutionist/atheistic dialogue spouted by Fermín at what felt like every available opportunity! I think that Zafon really deserves the credit on this one, because it creates for the entire book an atmosphere of political involvement and change without ever being preachy or didactic or, well, dry and boring. There was so much humor that even some of the more inflammatory things just made me smile and chuckle and go “Oh, Fermín!” However, I felt like the ending was a bit…abrupt. It was definitely one of those ones that didn’t really resolve much so much as put a pause on the story while clearly opening the door for the next book (maybe. If there is another one. Which I’m assuming there will be). When I first read the book, I wasn’t aware that Zafon’s books were a kind of series, so knowing this now it makes much more sense. But at the time, and if you read Prisoner of Heaven without knowing it, the ending may leave you feeling a little…jilted.

Rating: Hell yeah!

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[04] Dark Places

Oh, Gillian Flynn. My heart, in some weird and disturbed way, beats for you in this myster/thriller/horror book set all over the home state I love SO much! It was, I have to admit, a bit titillating and surreal to see places I’ve been and know fairly well (KCK, KCMO, Lawrence, Topeka, etc.) described in a book that has such, well, creepy as all hell plot components.

Most of you, I’m sure, are familiar with the Lady Flynn’s most recent best seller Gone Girl. This book, with its dark and yet somehow nondescript book cover sat on the shelves where I work for, like, months, quietly whispering to me every day “you haven’t read me yet. You keep recommending me to people. people keep recommending me to you. Reeeeaaaaddd mmeeeee……” (the last part was always in some creepy, Jacob Marley voice, complete with chain rattling). But I didn’t want to. Mostly because the plot didn’t quite make me go all

But also because, you know, I refuse to read a book that a billion people and the whole universe is telling me to read all at once. I just can’t. It’s silly rebellion, but so was buying hundreds of dollars worth of Breakfast Club t-shirts and black rubber bracelets when I was a freshman in high school. But I did feel bad about continuing to recommend a book to others that I hadn’t read just because it was on the best seller wall (NO, FIFTY SHADES! I WILL NOT HAND YOU TO A SINGLE PERSON.), so I decided to compromise with myself and I read this book instead. And I LOVED it.

GOODREAD SYNOPSIS MAGIC:

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her. The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club . . . and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer.

First of all, Lady Flynn has quite the mouth on her. Secondly. I was bat shit terrified staying up late and reading the chapters when Libby goes back in her own mind and describes what it was like to wake up and hear her family being murdered, only to run away and have to live with not only the survivor’s guilt but with the memories. I also want to give the Lady MAD PROPS for creating one of the few books I’ve read in a while that truly kept me guessing as to who the killer was, why the killer killed, and what this could mean for Ben, for Libby, and for the family that they both, in one way or another, lost. Libby was the kind of narrator that at once infuriated me – she refused to actually do anything with her life, instead excusing it all away because of what happened to her – while also making me feel sympathetic to this girl who lost her family, and then has to deal years later with all the possible “what if’s” that come with being that young and testifying in such an intense case.

The book also touched on some of the “darker” aspects of the legal system – what can happen when well meaning people encourage young people to say things that they feel the adults want to hear, and when the system has already made decisions about certain people in certain walks of life. It was frustrating to read, and was one of those situations where I felt myself going “THAT’S NOT FAIR! IF YOU ONLY KNEW THE TRUTH!” I found the ending to be surprising, although I will say that, probably about a dozen pages out or so I was kind of able to put it all together. BUT, most books don’t even string me along for that long. So I thought that this plot was really well done, and the plot twist was one that, as I understand it, is one of the Lady Flynn’s typical gusto storytelling maneuvers! Here here!

Rating: Hell yeah!

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