Sunday, August 30, 2009

Bed Rest: Sarah Bilston

Q is a twenty-something year old woman who has it all: high profile law career, devoted and successful husband, and a cramped apartment in New York City. On the "Modern Woman's List of Things to Do Before Hitting 30," there's just one more item to check off and that's to have a child. Getting pregnant was easy, as were the first 6 months. However, at a regular check-up, it is discovered that Q is not creating enough amniotic fluid and the baby may be in distress. Apparently the only cure for this condition is the old tried-and-true Victorian era method of bed rest. The Woman On The Go becomes The Woman On The Sofa. What ensues is a hilarious and sometimes touchingly poignant story of figuring out what's really important.

At first Q approaches her assigned bed rest with vigor. After all, who wouldn't want a free ticket to be a sloth?! She is waited on hand and foot and absolutely no one demands anything of her. She checks her email, watches re-runs of daytime TV, eats whatever she seems ideal. Then the third day rolls around and she finds herself bored out of her mind. Q gets herself involved in a neighborhood battle over black mold, and finds herself in the middle an extra-marital affair between her assistant and another lawyer. To add to the hilarity, Q is a Brit expat who has to frequently deal with the misunderstandings of her competitive family.

This was another piece of inconsequential chick-lit, but it was definitely entertaining. I found myself laughing out loud at parts, and wanting to holler at the characters in other parts. Rest assured, there's a happy ending with a healthy baby boy.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ender's Game: Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game is one of the Modern Library Reader's List Top 100 Novels; a list which I am trying to read through. It is also a novel I thought I had read in middle school or high school, but after reading it, I know this is my first read. I have heard of young adults reading this book, but I now think that the themes of warfare and psychological manipulation may be too advanced for some younger readers. I don't know that I would present this book to just any group of 8th graders--they would have to be mature and intelligent enough to comprehend the gravity of the story.

Imagine a world in which alien lifeforms have presented themselves as our enemy. There have been two previous wars with these aliens, and our world as we know it has changed completely. For one thing, space travel has become common and "big brother" monitors us by controlling our households. Families apply to have children, and at any moment a promising child may be taken away for government purposes. Ender is just such a child. He is the third child, which is a rare occurrence in itself. He is chosen by the government at the age of 6 to be groomed as a warfare commander. He is taken off Earth and put into the Battle school where he first learns how to fight, and then how to lead. He is a only a child, but the future of Earth and all mankind is put into his hands. The trick of it is, he has no idea. To Ender, it's just a big game that he excels at. He is aware that at some point in the distant future, as an adult, he may be chosen to be a commander, but he has no idea that he will fulfill that mission long before he is 16 years old.

Ender is a brilliant child who has equal parts aggression and compassion, making him the perfect candidate to lead an army. He can not only predict how the alien species will act, but he is strong enough to oppose them as well. He has quick thinking and is able to keep his army out of danger. He is also emotionally immature, frustrated by manipulating teachers, and heartbroken by a family that is never quite what he wants them to be.

Ender's Game has been heralded as "a scathing indictment of the military mind" (Library Journal). I read the military mind as malleable and gullible. Ender was an exception because he was aware of how he was being tested at every turn. He knew he was being manipulated and he used that knowledge to his own advantage. It is the other students at the battle school who illustrate perfectly the competitive and brainless spirit of military pawns. They act without question and have only success in mind. It is Ender who has to be reminded of how wonderful Earth is and that its human connections are worth fighting for. He simply doesn't have enough competitive spirit to keep him fighting without question.

To analyze this entire novel and discuss the many layers and themes would take at least an 8 page essay, so I'll leave the analyzing to someone else. I will state that I enjoyed the reading of Ender's Game and think it is an important novel. The most important aspect of the novel is in the last chapter. I believe it's true that compassion and understanding may well be the key to survival of our species.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Titan's Curse: Rick Riordan

I am loving this series! Rick Riordan has created a cast of characters who are real and relatable, adventures that are exciting and inventive, and language that is readable. As much as I love Harry Potter, Percy Jackson strikes me as far more average. He's dyslexic, slightly ADHD, and he has trouble relating to girls.

This third volume in the series presents problems specific to the latter of Percy's realistic traits. As his feelings for Annabeth grow, he is confronted with a new crisis involving the goddess Artemis and her pack of girl Hunters. Artemis and her hunters are perpetual adolescents who have sworn off boys, which poses a real problem when Percy is thrown in with them on a quest to save Annabeth.

In The Titan's Curse, Percy is forced to face more serious emotional and mental battles. Is he the one who will fulfill the prophecy that has the potential to bring down all of Olympus? As his relationship with his father improves at a snail's pace, Percy is given the chance to see how terrible an Olympian parent can be. How is he going to protect Camp Half-Blood against some of the most evil gods and monsters in the world? And as an unpleasant new twist, Percy must now also convince Athena that he will not be responsible for the downfall of Olympus. As Annabeth's mother, Athena is suspicious of Percy and his involvement with her daughter.

The series is going along at a fast pace, and I'm really enjoying it. I only hope that Riordan has the foresight to keep the characters in the forefront, opposed to Rowling's decision to progressively make the stories about the battles, leaving our beloved characters to fall flat.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Alias Grace: Margaret Atwood

In 1843 Grace Marks was arrested along with James McDermott for the murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housemaid Nancy Montgomery. Grace and James were employed by Kinnear and were accused of first murdering the maidservant and quartering her, and then shooting and killing the master of the house. The supposed motive for the murders was lust and jealousy, as the testimonies put everyone in everyone else's bed. Grace was just sixteen years old.

It was, of course, a great scandal at the time. A young girl, so innocent in appearances and history, being taken into the folds of an evil plot. There were also rumors that the maidservant had been impregnated with Kinnear's child before her death. It was a headlining news story in Canada, America, and Britain. The trial for Thomas Kinnear's murder was held first, and as McDermott and Marks were both found guilty and sentenced to death, the trial of Nancy Montgomery's death was never held as it was considered redundant. It was only the outcry by a group called The Committee For The Commutation of Grace Marks that she was not hanged until dead. She was instead sentenced to life imprisonment, which was very fortunate, as she was in fact later commuted and pardoned after serving just twenty-nine years of her life sentence.

Atwood has taken all of the transcripts and news articles, the psychological reviews and personal interviews into consideration. She has remained as accurate as possible in her fictional retelling of the story of Grace Marks. The problem there is that the stories are all so conflicting. Grace Marks tried to maintain that she was unconscious during the murders and had no recollection whatsoever of the twenty-four or so hours during which McDermott committed his crimes, but one of her many confessions states that she was an unwilling participant in parts of the murders. And McDermott himself gave multiple confessions, including one version in which he was a mere pawn in Grace Marks' plot, in which she wooed him with sexual invitations to convince him to do her bidding. Really, it's all very thickly layered on. I don't know how a jury ever managed to convict considering the complete lack of consistency. It just goes to show, when at a loss to prove your innocence, confuse 'em with as many stories as possible!

In my (para)professional opinion, after having read this novel as well as some other sources of fact, I believe that Grace Marks may well have been schizophrenic. During the times when she was unconscious, her witnessed behavior was different, and quite coarse in comparison to her usual prudish nature. Some psychologists chalked this up to her amazing ability to appear insane in an effort to save her life. Others argued it was a case of possession in needs of exorcism. Regardless of what is believed, I think that it's obvious Grace Marks was not in her right mind during the murders.

A note on the writing...Atwood is rather well known for her work in poetry. As such, I would expect her fiction writing to be concise and well-written. I found Alias Grace to be verbose and almost painfully long. Granted, when writing about a piece of history, a certain amount of expository is to be expected. I felt that it was perhaps overdone in this novel. For one thing, so much is said rather than shown making the text slightly dry to read. On the other hand, all of the information was provided, and I felt that I was able to make a reasonable conclusion of my own based on evidence presented. So perhaps the expository was necessary. I will have to read more of Atwood's fiction to make a fair judgement of her writing style.

Ultimately, I slogged through this novel in the interest of finding out The Truth, whatever it may be, and I think I discovered it by the last page. It was a very tedious read, but not without reward. Grace was only forty-six when she was released from the penitentiary and I can't help but wonder...then what happened?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Sea of Monsters: Rick Riordan

Hello again, lovely readers! I again have to make apologies for my delayed absence. Summer is always such a busy time, don't you think? Not to mention the fact that I have picked up a total of four books and read anywhere from three to one hundred pages of each before putting them aside. I finally found one worth reading, though, so let's get to it!

The Sea of Monsters is book two in a the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series. I read book one (The Lightning Thief) when I was in Korea and have only now finally found the second book. To give you some background information, Percy Jackson is the son of the sea god, Posiedon. His mother, however, is a mortal, so Percy is what is known as a Half-blood. He's a little awkward, ADHD, and dyslexic. Percy is like Harry Potter's slightly annoying little brother. He's not nearly as goody-two-shoes as Harry Potter, but he's got the same hero angle. Percy also has two best friends--a half-goat-boy, and an overachieving girl. Sound familiar? To be quite frank, I think Percy and the Olympians is an excellent series to follow HP. A stranger in the bookstore last week asked me what might be a good series to follow Harry Potter. This person said that Twilight seemed a bit too...well, TOO. I agreed and suggested Percy and the Olympians.

In this second volume, Percy is once again faced with a challenge that will put him in grave danger. The monsters are just as vile and the references to mythology are ever-present. The exciting part about this particular chapter in Percy's life is that it's personal. He gains a brother and has to save his best friend from an amorous cyclopes. This chapter of the overall story is building up to what I am sure will end in some final battle of good versus evil. The god of the underworld, Kronos, is gaining in power and will likely become Voldemort-esque.

For adults, the similarities may be too much to handle, thus boring the reader. For young readers, however, I think that Percy will open a whole new world of monsters and heroes. If nothing else, Riordan is a great writer who creates a humorous narrator in Percy Jackson.