Saturday, July 30, 2016

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

 Life After Life is a unique book that makes its readers think.

It reads differently than most other novels. It isn't a reincarnation story, which I was led to believe by friends who know I write past life mysteries. Instead it is based on Eternalism which, according to Wikipedia, is ...the view that each spacetime moment exists in and of itself. But it differs from Eternalism because Ursula, the novel's main character, begins to feel déjà vu moments and causes events to change.

It took me more time to get into this book than any other I've read this year. There are a couple of reasons for that. First of all, it takes a little more than a third of the book before any of the characters begin to show a sense that things have happened before. Because of this, the story felt as if Kate Atkinson was repeating herself for no reason. Secondly, due to the repeating events, which occur with differences, it's hard to keep the flow of the plot straight. My wife and I like to tell each other what's happening in the novels we're reading. With Life After Life I kept relating events that happened, then the following day I would talk about other events which occurred because the prior events had NOT happen. Also, some characters were major in one life path and were barely mentioned in all the others.

Characters have to grow for any novel to be worth reading. As Life After Life progresses, Kate Atkinson solves this dilemma by placing the entry point of each of Ursula's stories later in her life. We get to see her as a child early on and, later, as a young woman. That works well, but implies that each life kept the changes that occurred in previous go rounds, which is odd if no one remembers what changes were made.

Life After Life is set during World War II and in the years leading up to that horrible period of world history. It has a subplot touching on some of the personal connections members of the English upper class had with Germany. This decision brings tension and tragedy into the work and keeps the pages turning. Yet in the end it is the philosophy and the thought stimulated by the philosophy which makes it a good read.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

The Summer Before the WarThe Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Summer Before the War is the first Helen Simonson novel I've read, which puts me at odds with many of the other reviewers who came to this book after reading Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. I liked Summer enough to read Pettigrew and I intend to do so soon. It took a while for me to get into the characters, but once I did, I loved them, especially Beatrice Nash.

The novel is about people trying to live their lives as best they can, finding the right mixture of selflessness and self interest. The Edwardian period in England was a time of change. It was still a society limited by a class system, but the working class was becoming more powerful and the suffragette movement was growing. Because of the setting it is natural that bigotry is a theme. The plight of an intelligent woman trying to live an independent life is important and so is the situation of people born into lower classes, in this case gypsies.

Beatrice, the daughter of a moderately successful writer, is a teacher with aspirations of following in her father's footsteps. However, there are plenty of narrow minded people who don't believe a woman should have any career, especially one requiring the expression of ideas. Meanwhile, her best student is Snout, a gypsy boy with a great gift for many subjects including Latin, which she teaches. He faces the same type of impediment, but for class rather than gender. The book also touches other serious issues I don't want to reveal in a review.

While dealing with the problems of the era in which she lives, Beatrice also deals with relationship issues. She starts out the book thinking she wants a life as a career oriented spinster. But that can't last because she's all too human. This is a wonderful book written about an interesting era and the problems of people who have to live in those interesting times. It's called The Summer Before the War, but the title is a bit deceptive. There are war scenes.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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Monday, July 11, 2016

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) is a novel I enjoyed. It's an interesting read and I can recommend it, but not to people looking for a good, traditional detective story.

The conclusion is convoluted with very few clues leading up to it. It feels as if Galbraith fabricated an elaborate ending because it was time to end the book rather than having the story unfold naturally. Also, the reason Cormoran Strike believes his client is innocent has no support within the narrative. I've read other crime stories where people act on gut feelings alone, but I don't think it's a good technique.

What makes up for these problems are the complex relationships among the characters. Robin and Matthew (her fiancé) have an interesting relationship because Robin's ambition is to become good at detective work, a dangerous occupation. She wants to help Strike in ways beyond answering his phone and recording his appointments. This presents a problem for Matthew who wants her out of harm's way. It's a great dilemma, because it's easy to see both sides and because it causes friction between Matthew and Strike.

Then there's the relationship between Leonora and Orlando, her special needs child. Leonora doesn't have much of a personality, but she comes alive when she deals with her daughter and it's beautiful to see.

Finally, there is the relationship between Strike and Alexander, his half brother. Al is the legitimate child, a fact which bothers Strike, but Al does everything he can to make their relationship work. And Strike's occupation leads to some tricky requests for favors.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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