Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Beginnings: The Road

Every Friday Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays. What you do is share the opening line(s) of the book you are currently reading and briefly discuss what you think about the opening line or the book or whatever else inspires you. Make sure to share your entry with Rose City Reader and in my comments below.

Here's my book beginning:

"When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him."

- The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

 I read The Road years ago, and I'll probably re-read it at some point, because all of McCarthy's works deserve to be read again. I'm still reading Steven Lee Gilbert's A Lovely, Indecent Departure, and his writing style his reminiscent of McCarthy's, though not as poetic. For those who haven't read any McCarthy, I highly recommend him. The Road and All the Pretty Horses are his most accessible, though my favorite is Suttree. McCarthy's novels also make great movies: The Road and No Country For Old Men, in particular. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin (2000)

*Spoiler alert for those who have not read at least the first two books*

The third book in George R. R. Martin's monstrous A Song of Ice and Fire series has one less king than its predecessor, but that still leaves five, by my count, and it's the Lannisters who are sitting pretty in the seat that matters most of all - the Iron Throne. A Storm of Swords covers a much wider range of Martin's world than either of the previous two books. With an exception of Tyrion and Sansa, no two character perspectives are in the same place, and where they are in the world varies widely. From Jon beyond the wall to Daenerys across the sea we have a glimpse of everything, except for the Iron Islands where Balon Greyjoy has crowned himself king. And not only is the scope of book three much larger, its storylines are better developed and it is much more emotionally resonant than the previous two. It's almost impossible to know what to expect from this roller coaster of a novel.

Jaime Lannister from the HBO series
The only perspective missing this time around is Theon Greyjoy's, whose quest to conquer Winterfell left him in an unknown condition. But in his place pop up two more: Jaime Lannister and Samwell Tarly. Jaime is the biggest surprise here, though I guess after Theon it's only appropriate. So far Theon has been the only unlikable perspective, even after you include Jaime. Villainous as he may be, Jaime is very entertaining, and he does have a certain sense of Lannister honor that Theon was lacking. I find it interesting to note that the Lannisters have the two funniest characters in the series, though that family is not one I'm rooting for to win King's Landing. It seems that Tyrion inherited his wit from his oldest brother, though not Jaime's ability with a sword. The end of A Clash of Kings left Jaime's fate unknown, but we learn in the opening chapter that Catelyn left him in the capable hands of Brienne of Tarth in order to deliver him to the Lannisters in return for the two Stark girls. Jaime realizes that Catelyn is banking on the goodness of Tyrion to make this happen, because in no way would Cersei or Joffrey consent to the trade. They would merely keep Jaime and the girls, or, well, girl. No one knows where Arya is.

Samwell Tarly from the HBO series
The other new perspective comes from the Samwell Tarly, a cowardly man of the Night's Watch. When we last saw him, Jon had left him with 300 men of the Night's Watch to defend against Mance Rayder's massive wildling army. Sam's no warrior, but he is required to tend to the ravens and send out messages. However, things have gone awry since then. In the prologue we learn what it means when the warhorn is sounded three times. Through the course of the novel Sam learns to be brave, though not in ways you would expect. He doesn't become a bold and brave warrior, but he does make brave decisions. And he does survive the onslaught of wights and Others, which is saying something. I'm not sure where Sam's story will take him in the next book, but he does make some bold and surprising decisions at the end of this one.

I'll go briefly into the stories of the rest of the characters:

- Tyrion wakes up to recover from a nasty head wound and learns to his disappointment that his father has taken his place as King's Hand. The progress Tyrion made to remove his sister's power has all but been undone. His father does reward him for his efforts at fighting off Stannis Baratheon's forces, but the reward is not exactly something Tyrion wants.

- Sansa as well remains at King's Landing, no longer betrothed to King Joffrey. She finds this as a relief at first, until Joffrey lets it be known he still hopes she will serve as his concubine after he's married Margaery Tyrell, the widow of Renly. Sansa secretly has two potential methods of escape, however. One through Ser Dontos, and another through a marriage offer from the Queen of Thorns to her oldest grandson, Willas, a cripple who will inherit Highgarden. Young Sansa doesn't seem to care that the Tyrells are only after her Winterfell title and she never wonders who Ser Dontos is conspiring with to get her out.

- Through Catelyn we find the welcome return of Robb Stark, who has brought a surprise with him.

- Arya's adventures lead her to some surprising places and we meet a lot of new characters through her.

The actor who will play Mance Rayder in the HBO series
- Jon has a girlfriend, though he's having a very difficult time playing the turncloak. He does meet Mance Rayder, but he's hardly under the radar of suspicion. It's Ygritte who saves him, though he's reluctant to break certain vows.

-Bran travels with Jojen, Meera, Hodor, and Summer to find the three-eyed crow, which resides beyond the wall. Bran's sections are the least interesting, still, though his warg ability does develop.

- Davos has barely survived the battle at the end of the second book, and finds himself returned to Dragonstone with Stannis. He wants nothing more than to see Melisandre dead because he fears her dark powers from the Lord of Light and believes she's tainting his king.

- Last but not least is Dany, whose parts are a huge improvement over those in the second book and are some of the best in the book. Dany travels with two new friends, Arstan Whitewater and Strong Belwas, who have been asked to return her to Magister Illyrio. Ser Jorah Mormont is suspicious, and he insists that Dany test the loyalty of these two and Illyrio, and she does, with some exciting results.

Werner Herzog, just because
In his documentary, Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog says, "I believe the common character of the universe is not harmony, but hostility, chaos and murder." Martin's series seems to follow that line of thought as well. Robert Barratheon's death after being king for nearly 20 years has left his old position in a tenuous state, as armies have risen to support six kings, now five with the death of one of them. Honor is an admirable characteristic to have, but as we've seen with Ned Stark, treachery wins the day in Martin's chaotic world. Even the disciplined and orderly Night's Watch falls prey to the chaos of the undead, though their discipline is the trait that would serve them best against Mance Rayder's undisciplined army. Martin doesn't create a world where good will inevitably triumph over evil. We don't know what will happen. This is where Martin's fantasy series departs from many other stories of heroes and villains. In those stories we know who is the hero and who is the villain, and thus we know who will win, but in Martin's series there is no clear-cut good or evil. There are good acts and evil acts, and any character is just as capable of committing one as the other.

Ygritte from the HBO series
I would argue this is the best of the series so far. It has more warmth than the second novel, with some romance between Jon and Ygritte, among others, and the bonds of friendship developed between Arya and Gendry. Though at the same time events in the book had me very upset and despairing over the situation of characters I liked. There was much more feeling in this book than there was in the second book. It does help that we don't have the perspective of someone like Theon, who was immensely unlikeable, and even sickening. As mean as Jaime Lannister can be, at least he's funny. And what he has to say about Brienne does have some truth. She's not a very interesting character. Each individual story is much better developed this time around. There are more surprises along the way here, where A Clash of Kings relied on momentum from the end of the first book, the surprise assassination of Renly halfway through, and an exciting battle at the end of the novel. The events in A Storm of Swords are more personal to each character and I felt more deeply for them because of this. I'm very curious to see what Martin does in his next, A Feast of Crows.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays is a meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. What you do is answer the following three questions:

 What are you currently reading?

I haven't yet started Steven Lee Gilbert's A Lovely, Indecent Departure, but I plan on starting it today.

What did you recently finish reading?

I finally got through A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin. It was an excellent book, and I can't wait to continue the series, but since school is starting up again I don't think I'll get around to the next one until Winter break. My review should be coming up tomorrow, whenever I get the time to finish it.

What do you think you'll read next?

I'm not sure what I'll read next now that school's starting back up. I might be reading a lot of old and new YA fiction for at least one of my classes. Hopefully I won't be too busy to keep up this blog, but I'm sure I'll find time now and then.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Book Beginnings: A Lovely, Indecent Departure

Every Friday Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays. What you do is share the opening line(s) of the book you are currently reading and briefly discuss what you think about the opening line or the book or whatever else inspires you. Make sure to share your entry with Rose City Reader and in my comments below.

Here's my book beginning:

"Look, there comes the girl. She is treading alone up the sidewalk. Looking like anyone else of the noontime crowd blissfully strolling the strip mall. But she is not one of them, and never has been."

-A Lovely, Indecent Departure, by Steven Lee Gilbert

An interesting way to begin a novel, talking directly to the reader. I wonder why she's "not one of them." That seems a strange thing to point out. I mean, can't you say the same thing about every individual at the strip mall? Whatever the case, it's clear this girl is sad or distressed...or something.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Anthology 1: The Other Side, by Hamidah Gul (2012)

Hamidal Gul certainly isn't lacking in imagination. Many of her stories would find a welcome home in something like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. However, her self-published collection of short stories, Anthology 1: The Other Side, is lacking in polish and her stories fail to deliver, great as some of her ideas may be. They play out as cheesy camp, the so bad they're good kind of stories, which is okay as long as the bad is able to transform into the good. In this case they don't. And believe me, I was rooting for Gul along the way.

Gul just might find a decent line of work in marketing. Her book has a great cover and is an attractive package overall. To read the premise of each story is enough to fall in love. I mean, who wouldn't want to read a story titled "Come Home with Me," and advertised like this: "Do not invite her to come home with you."  Or: "The Best Friend - Ever wondered what your best friend is thinking when she smiles at you." The irony and simplicity of the first is borderline genius, and the ambiguity of the last is sinister: is she smiling at you lustily, or is she smiling at you because she wants to kill you? The problem is the stories just don't measure up to their descriptions. "The Best Friend" has a clever twist end to be sure, but it doesn't really make a lot of sense. And "Come Home with Me" suffers from a lack of development. In fact that's the problem with most of the stories. In these kinds of stories I'm not looking for in-depth character analysis, but something like a powerful atmosphere would have done wonders.

One of the problems is the language. Gul is from Singapore, it turns out, and she could not have gotten this published in the U.S. if not for the help of That English is her second language is obvious, sometimes painfully so, and there were many parts that were unintentionally funny. For example, Gul writes in one story, "...she was smiling as if it pleasured her." What Gul means is "pleased," but this is exactly the kind of mistake a foreigner would make, out of innocence. There are also tense problems; it's not rare to find that one sentence contains both a present tense and a past tense verb. These kinds of things just serve to detract from the reading experience as a whole.

In all there are ten short stories of varying lengths. Some make very little sense, such as "The Death Star," which is not so much about Star Wars as it is about a young star that decides to destroy the Earth. Others are boring, such as the companion stories "The Other Side" and "Mission of Mercy," stories about the end of humanity first from the perspective of humans and then from the perspective of "peace-loving" aliens who see destroying humans as the only way to save the planet. Gul is a utilitarian - she seems to believe it's okay for the life of one person or one species to end in order to save that of another. This is also seen in her story "The Suicide Case," where a man's suicide blocks traffic and redirects a would-be killer into a deadly earthquake. "Mary Had a Little Lamb" is sickening, about a woman who kills her loved ones to prevent her own death. The stories with the most promise, other than her flash fiction piece mentioned in the next paragraph, are "Children of the Mist" and "The Lonely Heart." "The Lonely Heart" has a nice twist and a great idea, but its execution is lacking, both in character development and an appropriate atmosphere. "Children of the Mist" has promise in setting up a scenario where five people could choose either their memories or a promising future, but Gul fails to set up compelling consequences for choosing one over the other, and so the story ends in disappointment.

Her best is her shortest, a flash fiction piece called "Mother and the Birds." It reflects Gul's sinister sense of humor, all punctuated in the last paragraph by a rather brilliant twist. One thing going for Gul is that she isn't trying to be too serious. That's a problem I have with many authors that work in the paranormal. Stephanie Meier is too serious, and Suzanne Collins, though perhaps not paranormal, is even more serious. Gul is not. She tells impossible things, like a story from the point of view of somebody who has just died, without skipping a beat. Some of her dialogue is fun, and so are her setups. It's the execution that's lacking.

(I received a free copy of Hamidah Gul's book in exchange for an honest review)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays is a meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. What you do is answer the following three questions:

 What are you currently reading?

I've taken a brief break from George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords to read Hamidah Gul's self-published short story collection called Anthology 1: The Other Side. It's not my policy to accept self-published books, but I accepted Gul's without looking into her book. While some of the ideas are good, the execution is lacking, and it's very clear that English is Gul's second language as the writing suffers from tense problems and wrong word usage, sometimes in unintentionally funny ways. Oh well, at least it's short.

What did you recently finish reading?

I most recently finished Christopher Lee's short story, The Archaeologists, the first part of a series of stories. While I enjoyed the style, I found the content a little too graphic, both the sex and the language. It's free on the Kindle if you want to give it a shot, but reader beware. My review is here. 

What do you think you'll read next?

I'm going to finish Martin's A Storm of Swords. I'm 500 pages in, and I can definitely see why people are saying it's his best so far. You get a much better sense of Martin's world as a whole, and the storylines develop in much more interesting ways than they did in A Clash of Kings.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays: A Storm of Swords

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. What you do is grab your current read, open to a random page, and share two sentences. Just make sure you don't share any spoilers.

Here's mine:

"The eunuch was humming tunelessly to himself as he came through the door, dressed in flowing robes of peach-colored silk and smelling of lemons. When he saw Tyrion seated by the hearth, he stopped and grew very still."

-p. 161, A Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin

Lord Varys, who generally knows everything, seems surprised to find Tyrion in his room. Why he's surprised and what Tyrion wants I will leave for you to find out.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Giveaway Winners!

Congratulations to the three winners of my first ever giveaway! Each of you will receive a copy of The Angels' Share by Rayme Waters. I will send an email for more information.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Author Interview: Steven Manchester (Author of Twelve Months)

Interview with Steven Manchester

Tell us about yourself first. 
I am the proud father of two sons and two daughters.

When not spending time with my children, writing, teaching, or promoting my works, I speak to troubled children through the Straight Ahead Program and host a Comedy Benefit each year for A Wish Come True, Inc.

Tell us about your new book, Twelve Months
Don DiMarco has a very good life – a family he loves, a comfortable lifestyle, passions and interests that keep him amused. He also thought he had time, but that turned out not to be the case. Faced with news that might have immediately felled most, Don now wonders if he has time enough. Time enough to show his wife the romance he didn’t always lavish on her. Time enough to live out his most ambitious fantasies. Time enough to close the circle on some of his most aching unresolved relationships. Summoning an inner strength he barely realized he possessed, Don sets off to prove that twelve months is time enough to live a life in full. A glorious celebration of each and every moment that we’re given here on Earth, as well as the eternal bonds that we all share, Twelve Months is a stirring testament to the power of the human spirit.

When did you start writing?
I’d just returned home from Operation Desert Storm, and was working as a prison investigator in Massachusetts. Needless to say, there was great negativity in my life at that time. I decided to return to college to finish my degree in Criminal Justice. During one of the classes, the professor talked about police work but nothing else. I finally raised my hand and asked, “The criminal justice system is vast. What about the courts, probation, parole – corrections?” He smiled and told me to see him after class. I thought I’d finally done it! In his office, he explained, “There’s no written material out there on corrections or prisons, except from the slanted perspective of inmates.” He smiled again and dropped the bomb. “If you’re so smart,” he said, “why don’t you write it?” Nine months later, I dropped the first draft of 6-5; A Different Shade of Blue on his desk. From then on, I was hooked. I was a writer.

What inspired you to write this book?
My wife and children. They inspire all of my writing.

Has the Internet helped you in your writing career?
Yes—it’s hard to be successful today without social media.

What are the major challenges that you have faced in your career?
The greatest challenge for me has been time. First and foremost, I am a Dad and my children come first. After that, there are other responsibilities that need my attention. Yet, my passion to write has constantly gnawed at my soul.
To overcome the obstacle of time, I made writing a priority over watching TV and sometimes even sleeping. Once my family is taken care of and the world closes its eyes, I’m up for a few more hours each day – chasing my dreams on paper.

What do you advise new writers to do?
Be true to yourself, always.
Write constantly.
Keep the faith!!!
And NEVER, EVER, EVER quit. Most people in this industry would agree that more than talent or skill or even luck, perseverance is the one trait that will always get the job done.
Knock on every door you can, and keep knocking. I promise that eventually someone will open and the warmth you feel on your face will more than validate every hour spent alone in the darkness. 

Where is Twelve Months on sale?

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Archaeologists, by Christopher Lee (2012)

Christopher Lee's "The Archaeologists" is the first in a series of short stories that I believe are meant to make up one longer story. I was intrigued by the opening and by the style, but turned off by the gratuitous language and bizarre sexual content. Language and sex don't usually bother me, but very few writers go to the extent that Lee does here in less than 40 pages of work. Perhaps Quentin Tarantino has him beat on language, but even movie director Kevin Smith is put to shame by the sexual content, and that's even after you include Zack and Miri Make a Porno and a choice scene with a donkey in Clerks 2. In a way I wish "The Archaeologists" wasn't a serial but that Lee had published the entire story because I may have enjoyed it more that way.

The premise is that a group of friends are about to meet up at a diner for their annual get together. Henry arrives first. He's married, a successful businessman (or so it seems), and as cynical as a word that rhymes with luck. He seems to hate the dinner, so why go? The problem is he doesn't much like John. He used to think John was something of a saint, as John once promised he would save the world. But John became an alcoholic, and his presence is more depressing than anything. John and Henry start to have conversations, and these are interrupted by John's flashbacks with a woman he was involved with. This woman is Michelle, a sweet Christian girl whose life is apparently ruined by this one-night stand. Well, ruined is an understatement. Somehow she accepts her fate, but I won't go there.

I saw promise in the idea of a dinner conversation between long-time friends. However, the conversation never really takes off, and just as it's about to, the story ends. A lot of time is spent on John's flashbacks, which are a little confusing. During his first flashback, I wasn't sure whether John was at his place or hers due to some contradictory details. Bits and pieces of the story also seemed more abstract than literal, and I wasn't really sure what to think of that. For example, at one point there is mention of a hidden pistol pointed at someone's chest, and this left me entirely confused. Lee's world seems populated by people who are so much on edge they're about ready to snap at the slightest provocation, such as boredom. I admit that seems to reflect, to a degree, the world we live in today, what with the numerous mass shootings that have happened over the past decade and a half, but the pistol reference in the story comes out of nowhere. Also, the dialogue was difficult to follow. I had troubles keeping track of the speaker, and this was made even more difficult by the use of an ellipsis as dialogue.

The style of the story intrigued me. It's set up like a play but written like a short story, in a stream-of-conscious-type style, with the narration entirely in the head of the speaker. I assume the story is commenting on the dark secrets people conceal from the rest of the world. And yes we all have secrets and we're all capable of evil, though perhaps the evil portrayed in this is a bit exaggerated. Or maybe it's wrong of me to see it as an extension of all of us. Perhaps these are just warped individuals. I don't really know. I wish the story had skipped some of the more graphic content (it might have improved from a few sections removed) and got to the point a little faster. Lee sets up a cliffhanger that implies there's much more about John than we know, but the problem is the story ends just as it's getting interesting. I find it difficult to recommend the story on the content alone, though if you're brave it's a very short read (maybe half an hour of your time) and it's currently free for the Kindle, according to Amazon. Curiosity compels me to check out volume two, though another voice inside me says no.

(I received a link to a free e-copy of Christopher Lee's story in exchange for an honest review)

Book Beginnings: A Storm of Swords

Every Friday Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays. What you do is share the opening line(s) of the book you are currently reading and briefly discuss what you think about the opening line or the book or whatever else inspires you. Make sure to share your entry with Rose City Reader and in my comments below.

Here's my book beginning:

"The day was grey and bitter cold, and the dogs would not take the scent."

-A Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin

 That's the first line of the prologue, about as spoiler-free as it gets for those who haven't read either the first or second book. Reading further into the prologue you begin to realize the fact that the dogs don't take the scent does not bode very well. So far I'm 250 pages in and enjoying the book quite a bit.

Also, I'm hosting my first ever giveaway, for 3 copies of The Angels' Share. Make sure to check it out.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays is a meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. What you do is answer the following three questions:

 What are you currently reading?

I just started George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords, the third in his series, and at 90 pages in everything is still just being set-up. Clearly these characters would benefit from modern communications technology, however. They make too many decisions based on outdated information. Ah, old world problems...

 What did you recently finish reading?

I most recently finished my giveaway ARC copy of The Angels' Share by Rayme Waters, which comes out this month. Waters has a strong writing style, but I found the plot kind of floundered as I ventured deeper into the novel. I have a review posted here.

*Also, I have a giveaway for 3 copies of the novel. Anyone interested should click on this Giveaway Link.*

What do you think you'll read next?

I'm going to take a brief break from A Storm of Swords and read Christopher Lee's novella, The Archaeologists. I'll probably have a review by the end of the week as I've heard it's a very brief read.

Monday, August 13, 2012

It's Monday! What are you Reading?

This weekly meme is hosted by Book Journey. What you do is list the books you read last week, and then list all of the books you plan to read this coming week.

What I read last week:

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding - A disturbing, but overall powerful and enjoyable YA classic. I wrote a review last week.

The Angels' Share, by Rayme Waters - A promising debut novel with powerful writing, but the story faltered due to what I saw as a lack of focus. My review is here.

*Make sure to check out my giveaway!*

What I'm currently reading:

The Archaeologists, by Chris Lee

What I plan to read next:

A Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin - Book 3 of Martin's massive series is probably the last one I will get to read by the end of the summer. I've heard it's the best, and I'll see if it matches the hype.

Giveaway: 3 Copies of The Angels' Share by Rayme Waters

Enter the Rafflecopter form below for a chance to win one of three paperback copies of The Angels' Share, the debut novel by Rayme Waters. The giveaway is open to the US and Canada only. For more information, check out my review.

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The Angels' Share, by Rayme Waters (2012)

Rayme Waters displays a strong talent for writing in her debut novel, The Angels' Share. There are many beautiful passages, which are sometimes heart-wrenching and sometimes so vivid you feel transported into the setting Waters has developed. Early on I felt empathetic to the main character's doubts, anxieties, and hopes. However, the story begins to wane due to a lack of focus. The novel does a little too much and in doing so sacrifices stronger character and thematic developments, and a story that begins as a real life drama falls into plot contrivances which don't stand up to the promise of the beginning.

The story begins as a young woman named Cinnamon Monday wakes up on a driveway, bruised, bloodied, and near death. She crawls next door and is rescued by a winery owner named Sam Gladstone. It was her ex-boyfriend, a druggie named Kevin, who beat her to a pulp, but Cinnamon refuses to give him up to police. She receives great care, first in the hospital and then in an expensive care facility paid for by her grandmother and then by Sam. In the process, Sam courts her, so to speak, though as old as he is he's not interested in romance. He wants to see her recover, and he also hopes she'll work for his winery, which means living on site. Cinnamon is suspicious of any possible strings attached, but this is her best option. Her mother gave up all of her personal belongings to live at Oh Holy Mountain, a religious community run by Phil, who claims to be a direct descendant to Jesus. Her grandmother is a wealthy widow who lives with Frank Ferguson, an unpleasant man who wants nothing to do with his wife's family. It's no surprise Cinnamon chooses Sam.

In a parallel story we learn about Cinnamon's youth, beginning at the age of seven. She lived in poverty most of her life, with an alcoholic mother who believes school is evil, and a father who sold weed to pay the bills but didn't stick around much. Her mother, born into wealth, has no domestic skills, and this drives a wedge between her and her husband, and it also makes finding work difficult. Through this perspective we also meet important characters like Julia, Cinnamon's cousin, and we witness Cinnamon's descent into drugs despite having an education of Bronte, Dickens, and Austen. There's an inevitability to this story, unfortunately, because we know what happens. Cinnamon's flashback story can only go so far, and in the end it's not necessary.

We see everything from the eyes of Cinnamon, and I think the first-person perspective works fine here. Cinnamon is thoughtful and the motives behind her decisions are clear. The story unfolds at first in a slow, absorbing way. I felt sorry for this woman who was the victim of abuse and felt hopeful for the direction her future might take her. The problem is that each chapter alternates between her present and her past, and this interrupts the flow and rhythm of the novel. What we learn about her past could have been conveyed through much shorter flashbacks. I grew impatient at the end of every other chapter, because Cinnamon's flashback story was an interruption.

I think Waters was trying to do too much, and this shows in the many plot strands left hanging. Oftentimes chapters would end with some new piece of information that seemed to lead the story in an interesting direction, but they were forgotten following the next chapter. This is especially true towards the end, where the reader is left unsure what the novel's goal is. At one point, Cinnamon visits her sickly grandmother, who makes a puzzling mention of a cousin. Here I thought an element of mystery had opened up. However, Cinnamon never again visits her grandmother and we're left with the disappointment that her grandmother had done nothing more than mumble nonsense.

There are also hints of a romance between Cinnamon and one of Sam's new hires, Eduardo. Unfortunately, the connection to Twilight (Edward) is a little too close. The romance, which is hardly developed at all and doesn't feel earned, is more broody than romantic. Cinnamon wonders why Eduardo ignores her, but it never crosses her mind to go and talk to him herself. I don't understand how the idea of a doomed heroine, brooding and passive, makes for a compelling romance. It's a common theme in adolescent romance, but Waters is writing an adult drama, not young adult fiction. Cinnamon's character comes off as inconsistent: at times a responsible adult, at times the broody adolescent, and at times psychotic. This, of course, is a result of the lack of focus, because the story never settles into an identity. Just when you think it's going to be a romance, Eduardo is dropped and we find drama with her parents or an in-depth focus on wine-tasting and wine-making. A more focused story could have developed the characters and the plot with much more depth.

I have no doubt that Waters has a better novel in her. She just needs to hone her craft and work out the kinks. This novel didn't work for me, but Waters' knack for writing leaves me wanting to read more of hers. I would say her one main weakness is a tendency towards exposition, which is a style of telling rather than showing. This leaves characters feeling thin and one-dimensional rather than fleshed out. The final fifty pages felt like an entirely different book and left me unsatisfied. At the start of the novel I did care for Cinnamon, but by the end I wasn't really sure who she was or what I was supposed to make of her. I don't mind an unlikeable heroine, but I would prefer to know whether I'm supposed to like her or not.

(I received an ARC copy The Angels' Share in a giveaway hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader).

Friday, August 10, 2012

Book Beginnings: The Angels' Share

Every Friday Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays. What you do is share the opening line(s) of the book you are currently reading and briefly discuss what you think about the opening line or the book or whatever else inspires you. Make sure to share your entry with Rose City Reader and in my comments below.

Here's my book beginning:

"At first, I thought I was alone. I awoke face down in the gravel to rivets of pain when I tried to blink or move or take more than a tiny sip of air. Willing myself forward, I crawled out of the harsh sunlight to the coiled hose by the side of the garage. Hot, plastic-tasting water turned sweet and cold giving my cells something to work with. I lay back down on the sharp muddy stones. What had happened?"

-The Angels' Share, by Rayme Waters

It's a pretty brutal opening, and very well-written. I have about 100 pages left and should finish the book by the weekend. Overall I'd say it's pretty good, but I think Waters tried to do a little too much and the book comes off as unfocused at times, held together only by her strong writing.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays is a meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. What you do is answer the following three questions:

 What are you currently reading?

I am halfway through The Angels' Share by Rayme Waters. Overall I'm enjoying it. It's a bit slow, sometimes a good slow and sometimes a dull slow, but it's well-written and I'm curious to see what happens in the last half.

What did you recently finish reading?

I finished William Golding's Lord of the Flies over the weekend. I enjoyed it quite a bit. My review is here.

What do you think you'll read next?

I'll try to get through George R. R. Martin's third book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Storm of Swords, before the end of the month.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding (1954)

William Golding's Lord of the Flies is a troubling look at humanity and society from the perspective of a group of kids. What makes it all the more troubling is the way it challenges our belief that children are innocent and only adulthood corrupts them. Golding makes it clear that there is something far more sinister, and impossible to describe, that makes civilizations crumble and allows evil to ravage us. Whatever this something is, it's in all of us. Through the eyes of a group of children isolated on a small island, the novel pits the need for civilization against the irrational savagery innate within us all.

A plane wreck leaves a group of young boys stranded on a small, unknown island occupied by pigs. Among these kids is Ralph, who first feels joy at the thought of liberation. He begrudgingly befriends Piggy, a fat boy with asthma who is much more terrified at the prospect of having no adults around. Together, Piggy and Ralph fish out a white conch shell that Ralph uses to call a gathering of all of the kids on the island. Jack arrives last with his troop of scouts, and a rivalry between him and Ralph is inevitable when the boys elect the more charismatic Ralph as leader. Ralph, however, appeases Jack by making him leader of his scout group, the hunters.

Though he's the butt of jokes, Piggy is the smartest kid on the island, and he's the one who realizes they need a fire going in case ships pass by. He also realizes the importance of building shelters against oncoming rains. Ralph develops a certain fondness for Piggy because of his intelligence, though his asthma and physical condition make him all but useless for labor. It's Jack who rushes into things, such as building a gigantic fire that catches half the island on fire, and views the conch shell, a symbol of leadership and order, with loathing. Jack's preoccupation with hunting grows frightening, and his actions begin to unravel the group's unity.

Lord of the Flies is a symbolic novel, meaning its events aren't meant to be taken literally. The setup, a plane wreck, is barely developed because what's important is to put these children in isolation, not how they got there or how probable it is only they would survive the crash. The pigs are another enigma. They seem to be an odd occupant of the novel, but their presence is symbolic rather than scientific fact. The pigs aren't just pigs, but a representation of flesh: the desire to eat meat and to overpower and slaughter living creatures. This isn't to say the novel is an abstraction. It is very vivid, and the reader can clearly picture the setting and the drama that unfolds

Things start out okay, and it's difficult to determine the turning point as to when things go sour. One can easily point to Jack, but I'll get to that later. Another problem is fear, and the lack of security. The island society is divided between "biguns" and "littluns." The littluns spend most of their time playing and don't seem to fully comprehend the severity of their situation, and the biguns are the ones responsible for getting things done. A fear spreads amongst the littluns that there's a beast on the island. This beast takes many forms, residing on land, in the sea, and even in the air. The biguns try to shrug these fears off as silly, though in reality they're simply afraid to admit a certain terror at the idea of a beast on the island. This terror helps drive a wedge in Ralph's attempt at civilization, and the littluns are right to be afraid, though the beast turns out to be much closer to home than they realize.

This beast is something that resides within the children, and it comes out through Jack most frighteningly of all. The question arises, what is it in Jack that snaps? Why isn't he able to see the reason in what Ralph and Piggy have to say? Piggy recognizes Jack's hatred of him and Ralph, but it is Simon who has a grasp of the terrifying secret. Simon has a hallucinatory conversation with Jack's creation, the Lord of the Flies, a pig's head staked to the ground and covered with flies. The Lord of the Flies is able to describe what Simon knows but is unable to put into words himself. He realizes that the beast everyone is afraid of is not a physical beast residing on the island, but a being residing within them all.

This beast takes over Jack, and Ralph in fighting off the beast within himself and fighting to keep order becomes Jack's rival. Of course, though Ralph is the chief in name, Piggy is the brains of the operation. I liked Piggy and felt sorry for him. He's teased because he's overweight, though in truth there's probably a good deal of envy due to his smarts. He's the voice of reason, and if the boys had listened to him, everything would have likely turned out much better. Ralph's charm gets him appointed chief over anyone else, though you get the feeling Piggy doesn't want to be chief. Jack has leadership experience, but there's a darkness to him the others sense, and so they cling to Ralph. However, Ralph finds his mind slipping, and he begins to forget why they need the fire and must be reminded again and again by Piggy. His obscure promise of rescue, an abstraction, fails to keep his society glued together, and it's to Jack the boys eventually turn because he learns to kill pigs and the meat is something tangible. Jack's bloodlust blinds him of the consequences of not being rescued.

The novel is much more mature than today's young adult books. It isn't written in the fast and easy way that teens are accustomed to now, but at a slow, deliberate pace and with lots of description. Of course, it is beautifully written, and this is the benefit of using a more sophisticated, slower-paced writing style. The novel's concluding chapters become much more exciting and action-packed, and there is a lot of dialogue, which is something teens like. Personally I've heard many mixed opinions about the novel, and many are disturbed by the violence, though I think a large part of the dislike of the novel comes from the fact that many readers find symbolism intimidating. The problem is when someone hears a novel is symbolic, they read the book with a different ear than they would otherwise. Though it is a challenging read, I think the best way to enjoy Lord of the Flies is not to analyze it as a configuration of symbols, but to see the story as it is on the surface, in the conflicts between the children and their ideas, and wonder what Golding has to say about society. You may be troubled by his conclusion, but it's important to recognize.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Beginnings: Lord of the Flies

Every Friday Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Fridays. What you do is share the opening line(s) of the book you are currently reading and briefly discuss what you think about the opening line or the book or whatever else inspires you. Make sure to share your entry with Rose City Reader and in my comments below.

Here's my book beginning:

"The boy with fair hair lowered himself own the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He was clambering heavily among the creepers and broken trunks when a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was echoed by another."

-Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

The novel begins after a plane has crashed into an island, stranding a large group of boys, including the one described above, Ralph. I'm not quite halfway into it, but I have a feeling that something bad is going to happen soon. There's a lot of tension between some of the boys, who have a love for their new found freedom, but also a desire to be rescued by adults. I guess I'll just have to read on.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle (1962)

Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is a very difficult novel to categorize. Its use of scientific terminology and ideas make it science fiction, but it has a lot of elements of fantasy as well, particularly in some of the creatures we meet. Even calling it young adult is a little misleading, because there are a lot of complex ideas that may go over the head of your average sixth grader. No matter how you want to categorize it, though, I found the story wonderful and fascinating, and L'Engle's storytelling and writing style is superior.

The Murry family is not a very ordinary one, except maybe the twins Dennys and Sandy, who are athletes and get good grades in school. Meg is a belligerent girl whose behavior gets her in a lot of trouble. Her youngest brother, Charles Wallace is exceptionally smart for a five-year old, smarter than most adults, in fact. Meg's parents are scientists, and her father has been missing for more than a year, though nobody seems to know why.

Eventually an older boy named Calvin enters her family's life, and Charles Wallace doesn't think it's a coincidence. He takes Meg and Calvin to an old abandoned house that is currently the residence of three strange ladies: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. These three ladies are, in fact, not really ladies, but otherworldly beings whose origins you will learn throughout the course of the story. Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace are led by these three ladies on a quest to find their father and to learn why he disappeared.

The novel is largely about human limitations, and I think it's important that all of L'Engle's characters are extraordinarily intelligent, especially Charles Wallace. Despite their high intellect, we find their understanding of things limited, and so is ours. L'Engle is interested in the idea that we may understand something, but can't quite put it into words. Mrs. Whatsit is in the habit of saying that there are no words known to mankind that can describe some of the things they encounter, and Mrs. Which is even more fond of pointing out that speech itself is limited in what it conveys, and the three strange ladies rarely use speech to communicate with one another. We also encounter other strange beings that can't see, but yet have a special understanding of their surroundings that causes Meg to realize that even human sight limits our understanding of things. Many things happen in this novel that words cannot describe and our puny minds can hardly fathom, but isn't that what makes our universe so wonderful?

Though Meg is the protagonist of the novel and the focus of the third person viewpoint, I would argue it is Charles Wallace who is the key character. He seems to have an otherworldly understanding of things, which is all the more amazing considering his young age. He's unarguably the leader of the three. Through the course of the novel, particularly after we meet Meg's father and hear what he has to say, I took Charles Wallace as symbolic of humanity. He's exceedingly bright, yet still a child, and his intelligence gets the better of him when it turns into arrogance and he dives into endeavors overconfident of his abilities. I believe L'Engle is trying to say that people, even with their exceptional intelligence, are childlike. We dive into projects and adventures with far less knowledge than we believe we have, and we often make a mess of things, but in the end we still learn from it, and from each other.

Written in 1962, L'Engle was clearly inspired by the Cold War and the red scare. L'Engle provides one overarching threat that is difficult to define or comprehend except that it gives off an aura of evil. She also provides another more clearly defined threat, characterized as a hive mind being that has a rhythmic control over its people. If somebody dares disrupt this rhythm by doing something different from the rest they are cruelly punished. The temptation to give in to this hive mind is very easy, as it frees you of all your burdens, and Communism at the time was viewed as something like a contagious disease. If one person caught it, it might latch onto others until the entire United States fell prey to it. Just look at Invasion of the Body Snatchers. However, 50 years later I think Americans, some at least, have had the chance to view Communism more objectively. Though in practice it turned into a totalitarian system, in theory it had very admirable goals. Stalin just so happened to make it the bogeyman of the Cold War, and L'Engle capitalizes on this bogeyman like Carol Kendall did in the The Gammage Cup before it. I find the idea tiring, and I wish L'Engle wasn't so serious about it.

L'Engle tells her story at a leisurely pace, one that slowly dives deeper and deeper into mystery, and slowly peels away the children's and the reader's sense of protection. Pacing, of course, is very important, and L'Engle shows her mastery over it where other young adult authors would be tempted to plunge into fast-paced, frenetic action and ambiguous romance. In terms of its ideas, it's a very intelligent story. The character development is a little shallow, and her climax, while it's the logical and obvious route, is anti-climatic, but it's in her big ideas and writing style that L'Engle shines, and I doubt we'll come across many stories written quite like this one.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

WWW Wednesdays

WWW Wednesdays is a meme hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. What you do is answer the following three questions:

 What are you currently reading?

 I've read just the first few pages of William Golding's Lord of the Flies and so far I'm liking it. It's taking some getting used to the style and the way the novel starts without a background opening. Hopefully I'll enjoy it all the way through.

What did you recently finish reading?

I finished Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time this past weekend, and I hope to get a review tomorrow, and before that I finished Nancy Farmer's very enjoyable The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm. My review is here.

 What do you think you'll read next?

After reading Lord of the Flies I will read my first ever ARC, The Angels' Share by Rayme Waters, which I received in a giveaway hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. I'll have my review out by next week and I will also host my first every giveaway.