Review: Twelve Years a Slave

Twelve Years a SlaveTwelve Years a Slave
By Solomon Northup
(Graymalkin Media, Paperback, 9781631680021, February 2014, 248pp.)

The Short of It:

A true account of a free black man, kidnapped and forced into slavery.

The Rest of It:

While in Washington, D.C. on a business trip in the mid-1800’s, Solomon Northup was kidnapped and forced to be a slave for what became twelve long years. His story, as told to David Wilson, is shared here in this memoir.

Many of you may have seen the movie, which received several Oscar nods but as with most books made into movies, I am always interested in reading the book first, whenever possible so I have yet to see the movie myself. The book, although short, gives you just enough of the horrors of what he went through as a slave and it will make you angry. His relationships with the other slaves is the one saving grace. But the frustration over his situation is felt throughout his story and the worry and fear about his family is very compelling.

In one sense, it’s hard to believe that such a thing could happen and for so long, but his twelve years as a slave is riddled with pain, worry and fear over what will become of him. He encounters many slave owners during this time and although most of them are easy to anger and will stop at nothing when it comes to a delivering a good beating, there are others who treat their slaves as people, with the respect and dignity of an owner who appreciates hard work.

The story itself is very compelling and yes, unbelievable at times but the delivery of the story seemed a little formal to me. The language used to tell the story is very formal and dare I say it, somewhat cold and clinical. It’s as if this story was told to me at arm’s length, in a detached sort of way which of course took me out of the narrative many times. It’s very short, yet felt much longer than it should have. Perhaps the formality of it all added to this.

This was the September selection for my book club, chosen by me and of course that is the one meeting I had to miss due to back to school night, so I really don’t know what the others felt or how it compared to the movie. Will I see the movie? I had planned to prior to reading the book but now, I am not so sure.

Have you read the book or seen the movie? What did you think?

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Big Driver (Audio)

Big Driver (audio)Big Driver (audio)
Written by Stephen King
Read by Jessica Hecht
(Simon & Schuster Audio | ISBN 9781442383746 | October 2014 )

The Short of It:

The kind of story you drop everything for. The kids can go hungry, but you’ve got to finish your read. You know the type I am talking about.

The Rest of It:

This little novella was actually part of a collection, originally published in Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King in 2010.  But in case you haven’t noticed, King is on the popularity train right now. Many of his books and short stories have been adapted for film or TV or are in the works to be adapted soon and he has another new novel coming out this November, Revival.  I have some fun scheduled for that one.

Tess Thorne, a thirty-something mystery writer who lives at home with her cat, runs into a little bit of car trouble on her way home from a book signing. What she encounters is horrifying and every woman’s worst nightmare.

The story is riveting and at times, brutal. I listened to it on my way home from work, and every time I pulled into my driveway I walked into the house with my ear buds firmly attached because it was so hard to stop listening! King’s story is not that unique but there are things about it that creep you out. One, the main character creates voices for those around her, her cat, the librarian and the person she is most afraid of.

These imaginary conversations are very disturbing. More so, because Jessica Hecht’s interpretation is downright chilling. I can’t say that I enjoyed her speaking voice all of the time. Sometimes, the main character, who is supposed to be a thirty-something, sounds like an 80 year-old woman and that’s not just because of what the character goes through. Because of that, at times, I didn’t feel that her reading was true to the character.

King includes all the classic “King” stuff that keeps you coming back for more. The weird little sayings, “It likes you, and you like it.” Said, over and over until you feel like you are on the brink of losing it. The strange mannerisms and yes, the zinger cuss words here and there, coming out of the main character’s mouth. Lends the story a crassness that keeps you on the edge of your seat because you don’t know what the main character is capable of. Is Tess losing it? Holding it together? Giving up? Your heart will beat out of your chest until you know for sure.

This also counts as a R.I.P read.

Peril the Second

As I mentioned above, so many King projects being translated for TV or the big screen. This is no exception. Big Driver is airing tonight, October 18th on Lifetime. Here is a little preview and if you miss tonight’s showing, you can catch it on Sunday, 10/19.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: I Am Malala

I Am MalalaI Am Malala
By Malala Yousafzai
(Little, Brown and Co., Hardcover, 9780316322409, October 2013, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Malala Yousafzai was just a young girl on a field trip for school when she was shot point-blank in the face. This book is about that day, the events leading up to it and the role it played in her struggle for education equality.

The Rest of It:

My book club selected this book back in January to be read in October. That was before Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize and before her gunman had been identified, so imagine our surprise when she was back in the news by the time we met to discuss the book. Timing, it’s everything.

I didn’t know much about Malala prior to reading this book. I do recall the shooting in 2012 and some of the details behind it, but other than that, not much. In case you’re like me, I’ll give you a little info. As a young girl, Malala lived in the Swat Valley, a province in Pakistan. Her father ran a school for both boys and girls but as you can imagine, most girls in that region were kept home to help around the house or married young to start their own families. Education was not a priority for young girls and Malala took it upon herself to make sure that young girls got the same education that boys did.

This presented a problem for her father. Threatened and told to close his doors, he began to worry about making ends meet. Without female students, he would not be able to keep his doors open. Knowing this, Malala did what she could to support education for all children and this angered many in their town, including the Taliban which eventually led to the attempt on her life. Amazingly, the gunshot wound to her head, did not cause permanent brain damage but called for quite a bit of physical therapy. This required her to be moved to a London hospital and after much discussion, a decision was made to move the rest of the family there as well.

Instead of being fearful of what could happen to her in the future, she used the events of that day to her advantage and became even more vocal, knowing that at some point the Taliban could succeed in taking her life. However, this mattered little to her. What mattered more, is that education be accessible to ALL who wanted it. Through her efforts, she’s been awarded numerous prizes for her humanitarian efforts. An impressive list but especially so given her young age.

I was surprised at how readable the book is. With every page, you are reminded of Malala’s youth. She’s a young girl like any young girl, watching popular TV shows and wanting to wear make-up and try new hairstyles. She’s very likable and the book is written simply, without a lot of historical background. This is a plus as well as a minus. A plus because almost anyone can read the book but a minus because if you are looking to learn more about that region of Pakistan or the Taliban itself, you won’t find it here.

Since this is not a book I would have normally picked up on my own, I was hoping to get a little more insight into that part of the country but even though I did not find it, I still enjoyed reading about this remarkable young woman.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Euphoria

EuphoriaEuphoria
By Lily King
(Atlantic Monthly Press, Hardcover, 9780802122551, June 2014, 368pp.)

The Short of It:

A somewhat entertaining romp through New Guinea that happens to include a love triangle!

The Rest of It:

I had no idea that this book was loosely based on Margaret Mead’s life until I was a few chapters in. Lately, I find myself going into a book blind so I can avoid everyone’s opinions on it but I think in this case I would have read a little more closely had I known about Mead being a basis for the story.

Regardless, I found the book to be quite entertaining.

Bankson, a scientist, fails miserably at killing himself so when he encounters Nell and her husband Fen, also scientists he finds himself slightly obsessed with Nell even though she is obviously married to Fen and promises to find them a tribe to study. Mostly, this is due to his need to keep her around and not so much out of scientific curiosity. Nell is fiercely independent and somewhat aware of Bankson’s attraction to her so there is quite a bit of sexual tension throughout the book. Oddly enough, Fen enjoys having Bankson around as a distraction because Fen and Nell definitely have their moments.

Anthropologically speaking, I think the book needed a little more adventure and a little less romantic tension but that’s just me. I know Mead’s work and attitude toward sex is what shaped the sexual revolution of the 60’s but the book read more like a novel to me than historical fiction. I suppose I wanted a bit more of the history of things.

It was an enjoyable read and well-written but it felt a tad unbalanced to me. Have you read it? What did you think of it?

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Net Galley.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Way Inn

The Way InnThe Way Inn
By Will Wiles
(Harper Perennial, Paperback, 9780062336101, September 2014, 352pp.)

The Short of It:

Very strange, often clever but surreal story about a guy and a hotel.

The Rest of It:

What I said above sounds simplistic, doesn’t it? But that’s really what the story is about. Neil Double is a conference surrogate. His job is to attend conferences on your behalf. Why spend money and time to send your employees all over the country for these things, when you can pay one guy to do it for you? That’s Neil. He reminded me a lot of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. He’s very precise and wants things to be a certain way and he loves hotels. More than the average person and definitely more than the conference goers who normally attend these events.

This time, he is staying at The Way Inn, which is a hotel chain that he is very familiar with but there is something very strange about this particular hotel. The corridors seem oddly familiar and yet new and every once in awhile, his key card fails to work and it almost seems as if his hotel room appears in two different places. As you can see, it’s a little bit surreal once you get into the meat of the story and I think some readers might be turned off by it. However, I think the cleverness outweighed the other elements and although I did lose a little interest when I realized where the story was going, I still thought it was a pretty clever story idea.

There are some other characters that add interest. The conference head who realizes what Neal is doing and tries to put a stop to it. There is also a strange woman who keeps showing up and Neal is absolutely sure he’s seen her before. So along with the surreal stuff, there is a tiny bit of mystery as well.

Would I recommend it? I would, if you don’t mind a lot of mundane details. You see, I am a little anal and highly sensitive to noise and smells and  lots of other things these days so the highly descriptive parts about the hotel itself were fascinating to me. I can see others being bored by them though. Also, I am not sure the majority of you would buy into the surreal aspect of the story but it was a quick read and I found it entertaining. Just know, that’s it’s clever but may not be for everyone.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Sparrow

The SparrowThe Sparrow
By Mary Doria Russell
Ballantine Books, Paperback, 9780449912553, September 1997, 448pp.)

*No Spoilers*

The Short of It:

This is one of those stories that innocently skips along and then delivers such a powerful punch to the gut, that you’ll want to forget what you’ve read as soon as you’ve read it.

The Rest of It:

I am not even going to attempt to describe the story to you in detail because that is half the adventure and this is definitely a novel you will want to experience on your own. I will say, that it’s about a newly discovered planet and the group sent to investigate it.

As you can imagine with a book like this, part of the suspense comes from WHAT is on the planet and how our group which includes Jesuit priests, a doctor, an engineer, an astronomer and an indentured computer specialist deals with what is thrown at them. And there is a lot thrown at them. Figuring out food and cultivating plants that they recognize is one challenge, determining the effects that the climate and environment have on their bodies is another challenge and really, just learning how to adapt to what they have in front of them is what keeps them busy much of the time.

What makes this an entertaining read is the group itself. Many were friendly back on Earth before their mission, so there is a lot of humor and well-placed sarcasm as everyone gets used to spending so much time together. They all fit, if that makes any sense even though many of them come from very different backgrounds.

But something terrible happens.

The story jumps around a bit between the before, during and after parts of the mission so very early on, you know that something horrible has happened and so this cake walk of visiting an unknown planet and the funny parts interspersed between the more serious issues, felt like I was being led along a very long plank and that any moment I would be plunged into the icy depths below. And that is EXACTLY what happens!

Everyone who reads this book says stuff like, “I feel totally wrung out”, “This book destroyed me” or “I cannot un-see what I’ve seen in my head.” I agree with these statements but what’s totally weird is that I saw it all coming and NONE if it really shocked me and yet, because I was strung along for so long, it hit me HARD. I read this for the #sparrowRAL (read along) and I finished it when others were still reading so when the air was sucked out of me, I had no one to turn to! I finished it at work too which added to my overall anxiety over the ending.

As far as science fiction goes, it felt very current to me even though much of it takes place in 2060. There is a sequel, Children of God, which I did not know about until after I finished The Sparrow but I feel absolutely no need to read the second book.

Things you should know:

  • Contains heavy religious themes but mostly deals with the question of whether or not God exists
  • Packs a punch and you will be a little ill after reading it. Make sure you have someone to discuss it with or you will lose your mind.
  • It takes a long time to get into the story (IMO). Lots of set-up and back and forth.
  • The idea of interacting with an alien race and how it’s handled here will fascinate you.
  • If you are at all interested in societal structure, you will have loads to consider.
  • After finishing the book, I suggest you gaze at pictures of cute puppies and kittens for a day or two because the images that Russell paints will be stuck in your mind for a very long time.

I can’t say that it’s a favorite of mine but it is a book that will stay with me forever and I am glad that I finally read it. Thanks Trish for hosting the read along. I probably would not have picked it up had you not chosen it.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru and his Years of Pilgrimage

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
By Haruki Murakami
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385352109, August 2014, 400pp.)

The Short of It:

Loss, longing and the power of memory. This novel is like a drug. I was mesmerized while reading it.

The Rest of It:

This is classic Murakami…and not.

Every time I discuss this book with another fan, we end up agreeing that it’s a classic but at the same time I cannot help but peg it as ‘different’ in some way. Let me tell you about the story first. It’s about a guy name Tsukuru Tazaki. He had some good friends in high school, two boys and two girls. They completed one another and there was no hint at all, that their relationships would not last. But to Tazaki’s surprise, all four friends stop talking to him. Instead of investigating further, he decides that he is the one “without a color” as all of their names represent a color and his does not. In his mind, he is the outcast and seriously considers ending his life.

But as he goes through life simply existing, he meets two key individuals that force him to reconsider. One is a friend who has many similar likes, and yet he maintains an air of mystery that Tazaki cannot explain. The other, is a girlfriend who forces him to seek out his friends to put closure on the situation. She asks him to do this before they can take their relationship further, and in his eagerness to move into the next stage of their relationship, he decides to find them and hopefully find out why they abandoned him so many years ago.

As a long time fan, I find that this novel is a mix of old and new. It’s much more straight-forward in the telling. There are a couple of elements that could be fantastical in nature, but overall, the story is simply told. The themes that I’ve come to expect from Murakami are all here. His characters are always these lonely souls searching for something or someone, there is always the question of, is it real or is it a dream? As a reader, you can’t be sure. The story can be interpreted many different ways and that is what makes this such an exciting read.

Many of his books can be “out there” with the talking cats, the sexy ear lobes, the awkward sexual encounters and the like but even though that stuff can catch you off guard, they are SO Murakami to me, that I missed them in this novel. Missed them, but not enough for it to affect my enjoyment of the novel itself. It’s a different type of book for him and it has me wondering if he is evolving as a writer. I know writers do at some point, but this work is decidedly different in tone. I still loved it, but I always wonder if the writing has changed or the translation had something to do with it.

It’s getting harder to choose a fave these days. To date, I do believe that Kafka on the Shore is probably my favorite but it was also my first and probably the most wild of his books. However, Colorless is probably right up there but for different reasons. One of which, is that a very similar thing happened to me a few years ago. Friendships can be complex to figure out in general but when they go wrong, sometimes there is no rhyme or reason as to why and it’s baffling. I cannot to this day make sense of what happened to me and at this point in time, I don’t want to waste the energy trying to figure it out but it sure makes for some good reading when it’s happening to someone else!

If you want to give him a try, start with After Dark. It’s not too long but has a good mix of what I’ve come to recognize as his signature style.

Murakami recently announced a short novel to be released in the US this December. What? Yep! Another one! This one is called The Strange Library and let me tell you, it sounds like it’s back to surreal city. I. Cannot. Wait!

Special note from Ti:

When I was chosen to be a Fan Ambassador for Colorless, I was given a few copies of Norwegian Wood to giveaway. I will be posting that giveaway soon but wanted to give you all a heads-up since I gave one away recently via Facebook and some of you might have thought you missed it.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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