Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I expect the books I read to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The Knife of Never Letting Go has the first two, but not the third. I understand that a series can benefit from a cliffhanger, but each book should be able to stand on its own. Think of The Hunger Games. It pulls its readers into its fictional world and leaves us wanting more, yet it is a complete story. The Knife of Never Letting Go comes close to doing that. If it had ended a little sooner it would have at least appeared to have a resolution, but it didn't.

That said, I loved most of the other aspects of this book.

The most fascinating idea in the novel is the introduction of something in this new world that gives women a great advantage over men in the battle of the sexes. How people react to this new gender difference ranges from the extreme reaction in Prentisstown to the no secrets relationship between Hildy and Tam in Farbranch. Every response seemed believable.

The relationship between Todd and Viola grew beautifully. They started out uncertain of each other. Viola wouldn't even speak with Todd when they first met. And Todd believed the fact that he was near Viola could possibly kill her. He felt guilty, but didn't act as if he would miss her. Their attachment grew stronger as they got to know each other and to depend on each other.

I also loved Todd's relationship with his dog, Manchee. In the world of this novel, animals can speak. They don't speak with the subtleties of a human mind, because they still think like animals. They're concern is focused primarily on the moment at hand, on eating and avoiding being eaten. But in his own beautiful, dog way Manchee speaks of love and loyalty. Manchee was my favorite character in the story.

I had trouble with the character of Aaron, who was so resilient he reminded me of Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. After awhile he became silly, but I felt the two Mr. Prentisses, both jr. and sr., made very interesting villains. I enjoyed the convoluted rational they had for their need to go after Todd.

I haven't read the other books in the series, but if they are like this one, they are worth reading. I would recommend this book to someone looking to read another YA series.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Delirium (Delirium, #1)Delirium by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've heard a number of writers say that the primary responsibility an author has is to keep readers turning pages. Lauren Oliver has certainly done that with her YA novel, Delirium. Oliver gets into the head of her main character, Lena, thoroughly and writes in a way that allows her readers to feel the world around this young woman. That world is a scary portrait of an out of control government.

The story is set in Portland, Maine, in a future time when the government forces people to have an operation at age eighteen, leaving them passive and compliant. The first sentence of Delirium reads:

It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure.

There are subversives, known as invalids, hidden among the population and more of them existing beyond the borders of the US in an area called The Wilds. When the novel begins Lena doesn't know much about the invalids, but she does know that her mother had some issues twelve years earlier. Those issues caused her mother to kill herself and left Lena to be raised by her Aunt Carol, a woman whose life revolves primarily around cooking and washing dishes.

There are scenes in the story that kept me on the edge of my seat with fear for what was happening to Lena. However, I had an issue with the believability of some of those scenes, because Lena seemed to bounce up from situations that should have hurt her seriously. I also had an issue with an escape that occurred later on in the work, when someone writes so hard on a cell wall that her marks go through the stone, without, of course, any of the guards noticing. Yet I could suspend disbelief enough in those scenes to stay involved with the story.

Lena changes and grows through the course of the novel and I loved sharing that experience with her. This is the first book of a trilogy, so even at the end she's still a bit whiny and very self centered. But there are hints she's growing out of those flaws and at one moment in the story she puts herself at risk in an attempt to help her friend Hana. She did it without a second thought. That was a wonderful scene.

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Man of Property by John Galsworthy

The Man of Property: The Forsyte Saga (Wordsworth Classics)The Man of Property: The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Man of Property is the first book in The Forsyte Saga, a trilogy by John Galsworthy. Galsworthy won the Nobel prize in literature for his body of work with this trilogy sited as the best example of his “distinguished art of narration.” His author page states that in addition to his work as an author, Galsworthy was also a “social activist. He was an outspoken advocate for the women's suffrage movement, prison reform and animal rights.”

There is an agenda in Galsworthy's writing, which I admire, but which often felt as if I was being hit over the head with nineteenth century political correctness. He is constantly defining what a Forsyte is rather than allowing his readers to make up their own minds. For example:

Old Jolyon was too much of a Forsyte to praise anything freely; especially anything for which he had a genuine admiration.

The blurb for The Man of Property starts out as follows:

The most prized item in Soames Forsyte's collection of beautiful things is his wife, the enigmatic Irene. But when she falls in love with Bosinney, a penniless architect who utterly rejects the Forsyte values, their affair touches off a series of events which can only end in disgrace and disaster.

In most of the discussions I read about this novel, there is a concentration on Soames' love of possessions. But I found the second sentence in this blurb to be more interesting. Irene, Soames' wife was bored. I can't say I blame her. A life spent accumulating possessions is about as boring a life as anyone can choose. It is her boredom that leads to the affair.

Irene falls in love with Bosinney, apparently because his values are so different from Soames' values. But it is hard to sympathize with her choice. Bosinney is designing a house for Irene and Soames and during that process he is constantly shaking his head at Soames and acting as if the man has no sense of style whatsoever. There's a difference between confidence and arrogance and Bosinney has more of the latter. And then there's June. June's another member of the Forsyte family. She's engaged to Bosinney and she's Irene's best friend. She's treated horribly, betrayed on two sides and without even the courtesy of talking to her about the situation. And this is after June has worked hard to help Bosinney succeed in his chosen profession. It seems as if Galsworthy sees June's desire for Bosinney to achieve success as a act of self interest somehow.

The Man of Property isn't my favorite of the nineteenth century literature I've read, but it is worth reading. It's complex enough to be interesting and it's fun to read what others thing of the work.

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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Doc by Mary Doria Russell

DocDoc by Mary Doria Russell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mary Doria Russell's novel Doc takes its readers back to Dodge City, Kansas in the mid nineteenth century. It's a period I've heard about, of course, but mostly through poorly researched films and old television shows. This book has a hard feel to it that makes it different. It feels as if this is closer to the way life really was in that time and place.

John Henry “Doc” Holliday is the main character. He was raised in a wealthy Georgian family prior to the civil war (or antebellum as he likes to say.) His mother died from tuberculosis and he has the same disease. After he finishes his studies to become a dentist, Doc leaves Georgia for Texas where he's been told the climate will be easier on his lungs.

In Texas, Doc starts a long relationship with a prostitute named Mary Katherine. Kate, as she is most often called, has a similar background to Holliday's. When she was young she seemed destined to have an aristocratic life, but circumstances changed and now she takes pride in simply making her own way through life. Doc and Kate like to talk about music and poetry and especially love to speak to each other in Latin. It seems to remind them of their heritage.

The book also covers the lives of the Earp brothers, Morgan, James, Virgil, and Wyatt, with the most concentration on Wyatt. The brothers become close friends with Doc Holliday and consider him to be family.

A great deal of the story is about the prostitutes (generally referred to as whores) living in Dodge City. It seems that most of the women there were either working girls or former working girls. Dodge City was a place that cattle drovers came to for fun, so it was filled with brothels and saloons where the men could gamble away their earnings. In one section Wyatt, who is living with a former prostitute, contemplates Doc's defense of the women. (note: I transposed this selection from the audio version, so the punctuation may be wrong.)

Personally Wyatt didn't think it took all that much nerve to lie back and let a man do what he wanted for a minute or two. The whores at his brother's place seemed to him hard and mercenary. Or loose and indifferent. Or silly and stupid. But he had to admit he didn't know much about any of them.

Doc Holliday was an educated and thoughtful man, so Wyatt made an effort to match up what he'd seen with what Doc said.

There might be something to it, he guessed. Later on he asked Mattie Blaylock about her life before and what her story was. At first she just looked at him like she couldn't decide if he was dumb or trying to trick her. “Honest,” he said. “I wanna know.”

“Well – they was doing it to me anyway,” she told him, “might as well get paid.”

It wasn't much to go on, but he did his best to treat her like she was a lady. The way Doc treated Kate.

And another section describes the way Kate teases General Eli Grier, a man with whom Doc has a personal issue that dates back to his life in Georgia. Kate is setting Grier up. This is from Grier's point of view.

Maybe, so for she wasn't that pretty, and she sure as hell didn't flatter a man. Whatever the reason, Eli Grier wanted her, but the bitch just toyed with him. Once, back in July, when he thought the deal was made, she fixed him with that flat-eyed stare of hers. Breasts half-exposed by negligent lace, she leaned toward him with a feral grin, letting him breathe in her perfume and her musk, daring him to touch her. He reached out and his fingers grazed that creamy flesh, he felt the barrel of a derringer .36 press against the ribs above his heart.

Her voice was husky, foreign, amused. “Let's see your cash,” she whispered. “For you? I cost a grand.”

Then, laughing, she swirled away, silk rustling, making him watch, infuriated, as she picked another man. “For you?” she cried breezily. “Five bucks!” And off she went, not even glancing over her soft, white shoulder as she led the dazzled Texan up quiet, carpeted stairs.

Along with the prostitution, Russell's novel is filled with gambling, fighting (with both guns and fists), and dealing with a disease as serious as tuberculosis was at that time. But there is a sense of optimism throughout the book. This is the story of people who live hard lives, but who make the most of what they have and care about each other along the way.

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