Monday, May 15, 2017

Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787 (The Poldark Saga)


Aidan Turner notwithstanding, I've never read the book.

Somewhere on Netflix or Amazon Prime I stumbled onto the Poldark series. I was caught by the look of Aidan Turner but kept by the surprisingly engaging, unexpectedly beautiful, and continuously intriguing story. 

Written by Winston Graham in the 1940s and 1950s, the first book of Poldark series, entitled Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787 (The Poldark Saga), has the flavor and feel of Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, or Elizabeth Gaskell. Set in the 1780s and 1790s, the series follows war-weary Ross Poldark as he returns from fighting in the Colonies, a war that the English lost. What interesting reversal of paradigm, reading an English novel set in that miserable time period. Wars were being lost, land was losing value, the mines in the area of Cornwall were not producing, food and living was extremely costly, and people were living scrub existences. What an odd time to set a romance novel/drama.

Yet, Ross Poldark does return to his family's land, finding decrepitude and gin-swilling servants, and begins to rebuild and renew his life. Not only does Ross deal with his own physical struggles and the struggles of managing the estate, he immediately discovers that the woman he has loved for these many years is set to marry his cousin.

And now we are set for the first book.

Aidan Turner
I am nearing the middle of the first book and I've discovered that the book is worthy of blogging about. For not only is Ross Poldark a worthy character, he and his fellow characters are all drawn so humanly, so heart warmingly, I am undone. And I am undone completely without the need to imagine Ross Poldark as played by Aidan Turner...and that is saying something. 

Now that I'm half way in, I am finding the writing engaging as hell and if Cornwall is even half as beautiful as Winston Graham writes it, I want to see it. For Cornwall itself is a character in this book. Cornwall's environs and its peoples of the 1780s are sharply and finely drawn; in their misery and celebration, they are by turn hilarious, petty, unworthy, worthy, filthy, lice-ridden, pompous, loyal, disloyal, unlearned, noble... Normal and regular folk.

It remains to be seen if I will read beyond this first book into the series. So far I have highlighted several passages that either use language that has moved me or has cracked me up. I'll let you know more when I've finished the book. Back in a day or two...

Also, now I know where Penzance is.  LOL

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Room by Emma Donohue




I had a little time last night so I started reading Room by Emma Donohue (author of a recent book I read I Wonder); the next thing I knew it was 5am and the sun was coming up. Little did I know I had picked up a book that has become a phenomenon. It was made into a movie in 2015.

Undoubtedly one of the most harrowing stories I've read in awhile, Room is a fictionalized story based on several notorious accounts of people taking young girls prisoner and keeping them locked up for many years, raping and abusing them, siring children with them, and keeping their horrific secrets, sometimes for decades.

Room is given yet another layer of distress by being told from the voice of Jack the five-year-old son of the kidnapped woman, born into the horrific man-made prison and raised in the enclosed space, never knowing anything at all about outdoors. Not knowing that anything at all exists outside of the room, their entire world. From Jack's perspective his life is lovely, secure, idyllic, and spent entirely with his beloved Ma while from his mother's perspective she is living in torture, neglect, rape, victimization, and abuse.

Jack's mother cycles through extreme depression and remarkably resiliency and exceptionally creative parenting over the years of her captivity. One cannot help but be in awe of her fortitude and fierce love and protection for her son. While Jack lives day to day to day within the small world of Room. Jack is a highly inquisitive little boy and his mother struggles with being honest about the world at large and with the reality that he may never know or see the world beyond Room. She is forced to choose what she will keep from him; he comes to believe that all of the things he sees on TV are pretend and not real, including other people, weather, nature, even the planet. 

Jack's ever-growing curiosities bring confusion to him as he struggles to understand the facts as Ma has presented them and all new information she gives him in his natural questioning and energy. He is such a beloved little boy; every parent can relate to his guileless inquisitiveness. He is lovable, well-meaning... protected from the horrific reality of their circumstances. In Room, Jack and his mother are barely individual. At one point he muses "Maybe I’m a human," he thinks, "but I’m a me-and-Ma as well." The psychological damage to both Jack and his mother is an ever-growing sea of inevitability... 


I hate to give away too much of the plot but I must relate that a certain point the two are released from their captivity. What follows is a two-fold path of recovery from the harrowing abuse and imprisonment experience and an abrupt expulsion from a sanctuary or haven at the same time. One must almost refer to the dual story lines as masterful. 

While I didn't understand the lack of compassion in family, nor did I understand some of Jack's mother's major choices in the life after Room, 
I did appreciate the continual discovery and confusion and dissonance experienced by Jack in Outside. 


It's not every day that a book moves me, disturbs me, disquiets me this much. I found myself doing several hours of research and reading after completing the book...leaving me even more sore and bruised. I honestly can't decide if I will read Elizabeth Smart's memoir My Story...

For the innovative, non-gimmicky use of the five-year old's voice, for the moving telling of two points of view in one terrifying story, for keeping my heart in my throat through the night, I give this book ten stars, minus three because I wanted to know so much more about Jack's mother and so much less about Jack's grandparents. That's seven stars from me.



Saturday, February 18, 2017

Vincent Czyz's The Christos Mosaic



_______________________


Vincent Czyz, author of this book, has written three books that I know of and from the reviews of his other books his writing has been well-received. I, however, am not in love with this book. I'm willing to own my own boredom.

In a world where so much is being written and revealed to the general population about church history, this book seems a bit underwhelming to me. The revelatory content could have been drawn more fully while also being repeated far less. It was as though the author didn't think the reader could follow. It was repetitive. Said again and again. Repeated ad nauseum. Suggested that the reader needed to read revelations again. 
And again.

Allow me a moment to offer quick reminder about the premise of  The Christos Mosaic: Drew, an American, is involved in the recovery of a newly discovered Dead Sea Scroll. Not surprisingly the scroll contains source and historical information that overturns everything that the Christian church puts forth as church doctrine and upon which that church has built its stories upon which the church rests. The church is seeking to keep the scroll from becoming public. Drew, a man with deeply-held Christian beliefs again and again and again and again and again in the book has to reconsider information about the beloved institution of his faith that he thought was fact. 

I won't tell you what the scroll reveals but I will tell you that the story and its intrigue could have been better. I found it tedious. Someone new to reading about early church history might truly enjoy the wealth of research material to follow but I found much of it redundant to materials I have read in the past. Therefore I must conclude that it is the writing that is at fault in this read.

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While I didn't love the book I did love its setting, mostly in Instabul. At the moment I am watching some Turkish dramas available on Netflix and I have enjoyed learning about the area and the history. I find it amazing that we here in The West never really learn about or appreciate the significance of Turkey and that entire Black Sea area. It is such a crossroads of culture. In its time Istanbul and the Muslims have attained vast power and vast riches. But we seldom learn about this part of the globe and its people without negative connotations. 

I give this book three stars for one really good supporting character.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Christos Mosaic


This is one of those books that seems like I'd be bound to read sooner or later: The Christos Mosaic by Vincent Czyz. I hadn't heard about the book until about a week or two ago, though it has been out for about five months. I have also never heard of the author Vincent Czyz.

I've read about half of the book at this point and I'm slightly underwhelmed. I have to prod myself to read more, hoping that the intrigue builds or someone dies or something happens to keep my interest. The Christos Mosaic, at this point feels very derivative, and not in a good way. 

One of my favorite reads ever was The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown and if you haven't read The DaVinci Code but rather watched the lame movie, then RUN, no not walk, out to buy yourself a copy at the nearest yard sale. That book was AMAZING. The DaVinci Code offered high quality intrigue from page one.

The Christos Mosaic has been compared to The DaVinci Code, though I'm not at all sure why, except for the concept. Secret knowledge, esoteric documents and wisdom, churchy conspiracy thugs, secret groups and gangstas...it all seems familiar. I do hope that there is more offered by Vincent because at this point I'm just not intrigued.


How to summarize...

I know you have some familiarity with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Well, our hero in this book Drew has somehow become embroiled in a series of hijinx as he inherits a newly-discovered scroll that is being sought after by treasure hunters of antiquities, unethical scholars, and unscrupulous buddies. As Drew races to understand the Christinity-changing secrets that the scroll reveals, he and his gang of Turkish partners-in-crime are being pursued by nefarious agents who are trying to prevent the information from the scroll being revealed and who have killed and are willing to kill again to keep the information in the scrolls secret. The scramble takes the gang across Egypt and Turkey as they seek information and trustworthy partners.

While this all sounds pretty exciting I just find myself kind of bored. Perhaps I am not moved by poor Drew's crisis of faith as he begins to piece together what he is learning from and about the scrolls and the early Christian church because while it is obvious that our Hero of a Thousand Faces is on a journey, most of it is of the intellectual variety and, I fear, kind of pathetic. Perhaps the revelations simply don't surprise me. Perhaps I'm spoiled by Dan Brown's far better writing. And perhaps my overall antipathy toward Drew and his merry gang of fellows plays a part in my lukewarm following of this book.

But I'm going to continue reading with the hope that things will improve. One thing I do seriously enjoy is the accompanying research that I get to do as I read, so I'm learning about some things right along with Drew.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Andrew Sean Greer's The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

SRSLY



It took me several days to read through
The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. Partially because I was reading slower, partially because I was savoring it. Now this is a book with some surprising time travel, so allow me to set the stage:



The book starts out with our first and our real Greta Wells living in 1985. In 1985, Greta's beloved twin brother Felix dies of complications from AIDS. Greta is devastated. This major loss is then complicated by the break up with her long-time partner Nathan. Greta Wells becomes severely depressed and chooses a fairly radical psychiatric treatment to alleviate her debilitating depression. The treatment, though, has unexpected and bizarre effects when Greta finds herself whisked to previous lives she might have had if she'd been born in a different era. It might be enough to know that those Gretas are also submitting to some form of ECT, electroconvulsive therapy, shock treatments, in those lives as well...

During the months of her treatment Greta cycles between her own time in 1985, another alternate life in 1918, where she is having an affair with Nathan and where her brother Felix is alive and well, though struggling with his identity, and a life in 1941 where Greta is married to Nathan and mother to their son. Separated by odd time and interesting changes in social mores, Greta's three lives populated with the same people, albeit achingly different relationships. In each time period Greta finds herself longing for those people she has lost in 1985, though the prices of those realities might be too high to bear.



Who hasn't wondered the what ifs of life? What if I hadn't lost that person in my life? What if that relationship had continued? What if I had the power to know the future? How does my life affect those around me? Can I be happier with other choices? What would I give up to have back those whom I have lost? What could life be like if I had what I thought I wanted?

Have you ever wondered what life was like generations ago? Greta gets to walk through her own apartment, on her own street, through her beloved neighborhood in New York City in three different eras. Enjoying the prosaic events from one life: walking down the street, dressing, preparing a meal, hearing the news, responding to community events. Moving with Greta through 1917 and 1941 was a delight because Andrew Sean Greer so obviously delighted in his research. He so obviously enjoyed creating Greta's home and neighborhood of the past and for that I thank him. What a surprising thing to say, hey? But the flotsam of one life can be simply magical when seen through the eyes of someone from another time.

I didn't expect this book and I think I can highly recommend it...

And now for my favorite part of any review:  I have two favorite excerpts from The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, though Greer's writing is quite lovely to read I could have included dozens of pieces. See if you don't love these pieces as much as I do:

 Our heart is so elastic that it can contract to a pinpoint, allowing our hours of work and tedium, but expand almost infinitely - filling us like a balloon - for the single hour we wait for a lover to awaken.

and

It's easy to say something is all in your head. It's like saying sunset is all in your eyes.

 One last thought about a secondary character, Greta's Aunt Ruth. This character provides another complex relationship for Greta to transit, yet Aunt Ruth's presence is a wonderful touchstone for the reader. In each of her lives, Aunt Ruth is Greta's beloved yardstick of reality. Aunt Ruth offers Greta both continuity and comparison. Her flaky, consistent, even bohemian lifestyle couches Greta in each life and helps her to process many of life's lessons...for the most part. I had a wonderful seasoned actress in mind any time Aunt Ruth appeared on the page and she made me smile, often.


So enjoy the luscious prose.
I give this surprising read a nice rating of six stars.





Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells


Did I discover this author?!
This book is The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. Have you heard of Greer? I miiight be the first to read him...therefore I have discovered him. *wink*


So the story is this.
Greta Wells, in 1985, has experienced two devastating losses and is in a long-term depression. In a desperate attempt to improve her mood Greta begins undergoing ECT, Electroconvulsive Therapy, shock therapy. 

Kind of a grim beginning, but wait. This is a time travel novel. In a twist of fate, Greta Wells in 1918 and Greta Wells in 1941 are also beginning EST, called Electroshock therapy in 1941, and let the time travel begin. Each time these multiple Gretas undergo treatment they move to another Greta timeline.

Greta from 1985, after her first treatment, wakes up in 1918, in the surprising life of Greta Wells in 1918. The difference in this Jazz Age Greta time line is that 1918 Greta is married to the boyfriend who just left 1985 Greta and Greta's twin brother Felix who just died in 1985 from AIDS is married to a woman in 1918. Of course the differences don't stop there but I don't want to give away too many points of the storyline. Let's not forget the crinolined Greta in 1941. SUCH a fun set of revelations as this 1941 Greta enjoys the pre-Feminist days of 1945 women... Discovering the new lives is quite delightful and interesting and, yes, kind of romantic.

Also present in these parallel lives is Greta's delightful and beloved Aunt Ruth as well as key secondary characters. I'm making it sound like all of her discoveries from her other lives are wonderful, but of course that would not be realistic. Be prepared for struggling and processing.

As Greta moves through a series of ECT treatments over several months she finds herself shuffling through 1918, 1941, and 1985. An interesting part of the move is that the Greta from each of those lives has moved to her 1985 self like a place keeper.

Still with me? OK.

I am over half way through this book and I find myself thinking that the writing is wonderful. Greer truly has a beautiful, sensory way with words. In preparation for this blog post this morning I read ONE review on Amazon by lynn-sb and lynn-sb's review absolutely praises Andrew Sean Greer's ability to write from the perspective as a woman in all of these relationships, including discovering that she is a parent in 1918 Greta's life. But I have to disagree with that reviewer's opinion.

While I have nothing but praises so far with this book, praises I tell you, I disagree that Greer is writing well as a woman. About half way through the first half of the book I realized that the Gretas weren't quite developed enough for me...not enough female. Female stuff is just...missing. (What do I mean by female stuff? I mean, Um, ...stuff.)

It's wonderful and well-written and I've already purchases another book by the guy...

Back with more after I finish the read.