Category Archives: Fiction

Beautiful Creatures

beautiful creaturesAfter beginning to read Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, I checked my hands to see if there happened to be glue on them. Use that as a warning. Once you start the book, it’s impossible to put it down.

There is action after action and even when you close the book, what you just read stays in your thoughts throughout the whole day.

Beautiful Creatures can be classified under fantasy-fiction, and I would recommend it for readers between sixth and eighth grade. The book has a wide range of themes and settings.The themes include romance, wizardry, school-life,

the civil war, and many more! The settings go from an old town in South Carolina, to graveyards, to high schools, and even haunted mansions!

The book revolves around a high school boy named Ethan Wate who is living a boring and depressing life in the town of Gatlin. The book is also in his point of view. Ethan does not have a mother, and he spends most of the time trying to find out information about her. His Dad is no help either. He spends his whole life sitting in an office writing, never taking his eyes off the screen. Because of all this, Ethan has gained a large amount of independence. As you read, you will see how much this independence helps him in life.

The authors did a marvelous job when creating each character. Kami and Margaret made the characters realistic, unlike many other fantasy books. You easily imagine the people in the book being real and living life like

we do today. Each character is unique in his/her own way and that makes the reader pay attention closely. They all have distinct traits and you really learn a lot about how different people can be from each other.

Ethan (the main character) is continuously haunted by dreams of a mysterious girl he’s never met or seen. He is starting to lose control of his thoughts and even finds mysterious items in his room that he never had. The dreams Ethan has are very well described. You can really visualize what’s happening and it’s so well written that you feel like you’re looking through Ethan’s eyes.

The book isn’t only about a boy having nightmares. It’s also about a girl named Lena Duchannes (another main character) who moves into her Uncle’s house, also located in Gatlin. Lena’s family members are all “casters”. Now, the book’s’ definition of a “caster” isn’t exactly someone who cast spells. If you want to know what the real meaning of the word is, read the book!

Lena Duchannes is the new girl at Stonewall Jackson High. Everyone hates her because of what she wears, how she looks, where she lives, and the fact that she’s new at the school gives her a bad reputation. Not only do people think she’s bizarre, but they think her whole family is too. Well in a way, the people are right. Lena and her family aren’t normal. Actually, to be more specific, they’re not even human. Just like any other romance, the boy comes to the rescue. In this case, it’s Ethan who saves Lena from her misery. Nobody understands why such

a popular kid like Ethan would have interest in such a strange person like Lena.

The book just keeps getting better from that point. The couple constantly, become stuck in conflicts whether it’s with their friends, families, or even monstrous creatures. You’ll have to read the book to learn more about it!

There are some parts though, where it might seem slow at times. While reading the book, I felt there were scenes that did not need to be in the story. Almost as if the authors just put those scenes in to make the book longer and look bigger. Beautiful Creatures is still one of my favorite books read so far, and it is worthy enough to recommend it to a friend in the appropriate age group. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl came up with a great story, and I praise them for having such creativity.

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Wolf Hall: A Novel

Wolf hallThe scope and breadth of this novel is immense. Hilary Mantel sets out to describe a tumultuous period in English history, not by focusing on viagra usa the main event- Henry and Anne- but by showing the struggle faced by those more behind the scenes. Thomas Cromwell says, late in the book, that worlds are not changed by kings and popes, but by two men sitting at a table, coming to an agreement, or by the exchange of thoughts and ideas across countries. And that is what Mantel seems to believe, too; thus, she does not focus her story on the huge proclamations or big meetings.

She shows us Cromwell, alone at his desk, thinking and reminiscing. She details short, almost off-hand conversations between Cromwell and his wonderful family. And then, sometimes, she will give us fascinating debates between Cromwell and Sir Thomas More, the “man for all seasons” who was ruthless in his practices to rid England of heretics.

Even the title of the book is more suggestive than straight-forward. Wolf Hall is the seat of the Seymour clan, but no scene in the book takes place there. The Seymours make cameos, and Cromwell takes note of them, but Wolf Hall is a distant building for most of the book. Instead, it represents Cromwell’s forward thinking. He is grateful to the Boleyns for his rise in court and favor, but he does not allow himself to depend on them. He tells his son, “…it’s all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it’s no good at all if you don’t have a plan for tomorrow.” And Cromwell always, always has a plan for tomorrow.

I am not sure if I fully believe in Mantel’s reconstruction of Cromwell as a man who wanted only to reform England, and was so forward-thinking in his ideals. However, it’s understandable; Cromwell was a blacksmith’s son who rose to prominence at a time when everyone important was noble or royal. Of course he would want the same opportunities for his family and friends. Perhaps in the promised sequel, we’ll get the hardened and more ruthless Cromwell that people remember.

Mantel’s writing style drew me in completely. This book reminded me a great deal of A Place of Greater Safety, in terms of writing style. I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as that book, but that’s probably because the French Revolution

absorbs me far more than Tudor England does. Mantel writes so lyrically, so adeptly. She immerses herself in the period- the food, the clothes, the heat, the stench. She researched this book for years, and it’s obvious in the product. But she does not get bogged down by her facts, or by history. Her flair for witty conversation brings

her characters to life, giving them flesh and blood where history only gives them stark facts and wooden portraits. Yes, Cardinal Wolsey was able to tell a joke. Yes, Cromwell loved his wife. We don’t see those things, 500 years later.

The only parts of the writing that annoyed me, stylistically, were as follows: first, Mantel usually uses quotation marks to denote conversation, but sometimes she does not; second, Mantel uses the pronoun “he” too much. The first is just frustrating in reading such a thick novel because it can interrupt a rhythm. The second is confusing because there are often multiple “he” in conversation, and you can’t be sure who she is referring to, all the time.

Other than that, though- this book is great! Very worthy of the Booker Prize, in my view, and I look forward to the sequel. Lovers of epic, varied novels will be thrilled. Not only are extensive family trees provided, but there is also a five-page long list of characters. This isn’t the sort of book you read for ten minutes on the morning commute. It’s one to savor with a glass of wine.

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Stitches: A Memoir

stitchesThe story revolves around David Small from the age of 6 to adulthood. He comes from an interesting family–his mother and her side of the family is explored in depth. David develops a growth on his neck, which turns out to be cancer. However, his family does not tell him this, which is just one of the sources of conflict between him and his parents. I really enjoyed how the story was told. You can really feel the struggles David goes through growing up within this family.

And in some ways, his mother reminds me of my grandma (in terms of the value of money and weighing the cost of something against something else). I also like how imaginative David (the character in the book) can be, and you see that throughout the story (like his admiration for Alice in Wonderland, which appears again towards the end of the story) In the end, the story has a great moral lesson–your voice is more than the words that

come out of your mouth. It is also your actions, what you do and how you do them, that speak for you. That is a great message to learn from a book about a child growing up.

The artwork is black, white, and gray, and in this story, it works perfectly. Some of the best frames in the book are when the author uses a direct light source on his character. For example, when David is in an elevator, and the doors open and close, he creates a fantastic effect by using this lighting technique. It happens a few times in the story, and it is definitely worth stopping to study the frame and look at the detail.

Finally, I believe that this story could only be told in this way. It just would not have been as effective if it was told in a traditional book. You need the art, combined with the

story, David’s imagination and the writer’s control of his words to get everything you

see in front of you. It just works as a graphic novel, telling the story of his own memories. I read the entire graphic novel in about 45 minutes. I now think that was too fast, and I plan to go back and read it again. I highly recommend this book for its great story and art work, even if you know nothing about the author. By the time you are done reading, you will feel like you know him personally.

Tropical Fish

Tropical FishAn amazing set of short stories by debut author Doreen Baingana, “Tropical Fish” quickly drew me in and held me captive until the very last page of the last tale in a series of stories on the lives and development of three Ugandan sisters. Largely focused on the youngest, Christine Mugisha, these stories take us into life as young women in a society full of such promise but decimated in many ways by missteps such as the regime of Idi Amin.

Christine Mugisha and her eldest sister Rosa and the middle child Patti are drawn in strong contrasts, as well as powerful parallels. They are all young women trying to find their way in society with a shared family history. However, each has clutched a different talisman as their saving grace. Rosa seeks comfort and support in a group of friends and in the arms of a young man with whom she has a secret relationship. Patti chooses God as she immerses

herself in the society

of born-again Christians. Christine searches in many places including both of the paths already chosen by her older sisters. Eventually her quest takes her to the United States of America as she seeks to distinguish herself and truly find out who she is. The paths that each of them takes lead them to distinct destinies. Following their journeys through the eyes and words of Ms. Baingana was a true joy.

Author Baingana is a treasure. She captures the nuances of life in post-Amin Uganda without over politicizing her tales or her characters. In fact, she very convincingly portrays

the normal struggles of young women transitioning into full adulthood over the background of struggles of class, gender and politics amongst other issues. I look forward to her navigating another delightful journey.

The Lost Symbol

The Lost SymbolI want to be fair to Dan Brown.

Elitist literary critics say that Brown is not a good writer, and that his stories are bland. I personally think that if you manage to genuinely entertain and awe your audiences, then

you have accomplished something worthy of reading. I also think that “The Da Vinci Code” was nearly an impossible act to follow. People will have all sorts of crazy expectations for your next book that you won’t be able to fulfill. As such, I write this review as fair as I can, trying to assess it on its own merits, but comparisons are inevitable.

The Lost Symbol isn’t a bad book, but it is a letdown. I didn’t like this one for the same reason I didn’t like Angels and Demons as much. Also, Brown doesn’t advance the story at a good pace. A good two-thirds of the book (I’m not exaggerating, I counted the pages) was filled with variations on such a scene:

Character A: Have you heard of X?
Character B (usually Langdon): Yes, but I thought that was just a myth.
Character A shows or tells B something.
Character B reacts with shock.
Then, insert scenes of people walking from one place to another, being chased.
Then, insert the sentence “Suddenly everything made sense.” At least for the next ten pages.

After reading this, I had to wonder whether Brown is a writer on Lost, where people can’t seem to give straight answers, and where scenes never resolve any questions.

Here’s my advice to Dan Brown:

1. Fire your editor. There were some whole passages, even chapters, that served no purpose other than to inflate your book to an unnecessary size. I don’t mind reading big books, but I do mind reading through unnecessary words. Ch. 69, for example, is unnecessary. If your editor didn’t ask you to take it out, then he should be fired. Sorry.

2. We don’t need to know exactly how every character moves from one location to the next, which turn they took, what street they walked across. If it serves the plot, if the geography is important (as it was in Angels and Demons), then fine. Geography was crucial at certain moments in this book, but many times, the passages when you describe how someone moves from one part of a house to another part, what door they opened and closed, all that is boring and tedious.

3. Don’t write your novel like a screenplay. Whether you’ve done it consciously or not, your short chapters read as if you had in mind exactly what camera shots you expect out of an inevitable movie adaptation. Leave that to the screenwriter. If they can adapt a book like “Naked Lunch,” they can surely adapt your book as well. Write your novel as a novel.

4. Be careful of hubris. You’re in a unique and rare position that, I’m sure, many authors dream of: your books will sell millions by default and you will get a multi-million dollar movie deal without question. Good for you! Some authors handle that well (e.g. J.K. Rowling), some don’t (e.g. Stephen King, Michael Crichton). It’s not that the latter are bad writers, but that they are capable of writing some really bad stuff. Having said that, I’m not saying that The Lost Symbol is bad, just that it needs to lose about 100-pages of unnecessary, repetitive scenes. Speaking of Crichton, the reason I stopped reading him is that he became too formulaic. All his books are about a bunch of mismatched experts going to some remote location and something goes wrong. Formula isn’t bad per se. Rowling is formulaic too. Most of her books revolve around the Hogwarts school year, but she puts enough story in there to make it work. You should do more of that.

5. Know what you’re good at. You know your technology, which makes your book authentic. You also know that your readers are likely to go Google

a painting or artist you mentioned and be awed by what you described. That’s great! I bet that also saves you the pain of having to request reprint permissions of artwork and such. Also, since most people don’t know their history, let alone the etymology of words they use everyday, you have literally an endless supply of stories. That’s what you’re good at. I’d say, forget the science stuff. It’s interesting, but, as with Angels and Demons, it’s an awkward fit. I don’t recall there being any modern science in The Da Vinci Code and I was fine with that.

6. Try a recurring character. Langdon is fine, but consider having a character or two that returns in subsequent books. Make them interesting, of course, and don’t make them a love interest.

So, here’s the good news. Dan Brown hasn’t nuked the fridge, at least not for me. Also, now that this book is out in the open, readers are likely to give his next book a much fairer assessment. So, I look forward to reading that, but, I probably won’t be buying it on the first day it’s out.

Say You're One Of Them

Say you're one of themSay You’re o

ne of them is a collection of five intriguing stories by Uwem Akpan, a Nigerian author. This book received rave reviews from the media and I think the cialis professional attention was well deserved.

What makes it stand out is that the author portrays what we would consider adult themes through the eyes of a child. The

five young narrators, in their innocence, are forced to face intricate situations where they have to deal with poverty, child prostitution, religious intolerance, human trafficking and genocide. These children are victims in a world they found themselves in, a world that they did not create. A world that is full of poverty, greed, ignorance and fear.

The five stories are set in Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Nigeria.

Akpan throws in some Swahili in the Kenyan story, a couple of words of Amharic for Ethiopia, Kinyarwanda into the Rwandan one, some French along with Pidgin English in one Nigerian story and a variety of uttering in the other, all which complement the narratives and give instant reality to the different characters.

In these stories there are no happy endings, which is mostly a reality for the people, both young and old, living in

these unimaginable circumstances. Readers, on the other hand, clearly see the evil at

play. By design, the book tugs your heartstrings; you pity the children, denounce the adults and deplore the circumstances.

The Lonely Polygamist

the lonely polygamistThis is the best book I have rea

d in this (relatively) new year. By turns laugh out loud funny and hearbreakingly sad- its also endlessly creative. Its everything you would want in a piece of fiction- pick it up, read the 1st page, turn the page , read

on- before you know it you are completely caught up in the world of Golden, his 4 wives and 28 children.

This is a book to read once, tell all your friends about it, read it again. These characters and their story will stay with you for a long long time. The feeling I had while reading it was the feeling I remember having when I read Lonesome Dove for that 1st time. If you are a lover of good fiction- then you are in luck because this is fiction at its finest.

The Marrowbone Marble Company

marrowbone marble companyI admire the scope of this to

ugh, ambitious book more than I ultimately enjoyed it. Early on,

Taylor convinced me that this was going to be a character-driven book. But as the cast grew and the characterizations diminished, I ceased to inhabit it fully. The essential ingredient–individual portrayal–blurs into the larger themes of racial unrest within the genesis of the Civil Rights Movement. People became mere sketches. Except for the main protagonist, Loyal Ledford, the cast was populated by archetypes and one-dimensional figures. The author has a talent for earthy, gritty prose and his rendering of place is evocative. The soil and air of Marrowbone, West Virginia gets in your pores. But about one-quarter way through the book, it starts to meander, sag, and make its high points with platitudes.

Loyal Ledford was orphaned as a young boy in 1935 by a reckless, drunk father. He lingers in Huntington, West Virginia, tending the furnace at night at The Mann Glass factory and squires the boss’s daughter, Rachel, a company nurse. During the day, he goes to the local college. But he suffers from ennui and abruptly enlists as a serviceman in World War II. He returns after the war a haunted man from the horrors he has witnessed and the things he has done in the name of war. He is re-employed at Mann Glass, this time as a supervisor; marries Rachel; and starts a family. He befriends a black employee, Mack Wells, who has been subjected to ignorant prejudice. At night, Ledford is infected by abstract dreams that carry uncertain messages, which seem to be juxtapositions of past and future. He turns to whiskey for solace, which gradually alienates him from his home


Ledford is thoroughly disgusted by racial prejudice at the workplace and in the county. He leaves Mann Glass and enlists the help of his distant relatives, The Bonecutter Brothers, in order to start up The Marrowbone Marble Company, an act inspired by his dreams. He persuades Mack to leave and come with him on this new venture. Loyal wants to do more than open a marble company. He desires to build a community that is based on kinship between black and white, a town that is built on integrity and the rights of human beings of all persuasions. One brick, one stone at a time, this town will grow to represent partnership and community between all ethnicities and colors.

He seeks out a scholar, Reverend Don Staples, who becomes his mentor in all things from philosophy to religion to basic human relationships. Staples is a gentle Christian, a thoughtful theologian, not a fire and brimstone preacher. Ledford quits drinking and reestablishes his role as husband and father. He is determined to put his demons at rest and forge a meaningful future at Marrowbone Cut. However, he also maintains a friendship with a fellow serviceman, Chicagoan Erm Bacigalupo, a crude man of little integrity–a bookie with mob connections.

It is a precarious undertaking to write a novel of race relations without tipping into the sententious and obvious. The author made it there by half, but it leaked around the edges. Don Staples became little more than a straw for Taylor’s pulpit themes, and Rachel and Lizzie (Mack’s wife) became mere wisps, undercut by the grandiloquence. In essence, the story was preaching to the choir (i.e. the reader). I do not need to be convinced that segregation was heinous, or to read pithy sermons about human decency and racial equality. I wanted to get back to the individual families.

Taylor’s focus and cadence drifted as his architecture staggered under its own weight. He selected a few individuals to expand upon, such as Ledford’s son, Orb. He gave him an Edgar Sawtell-ish construction, and his story, while precious, meandered until it also became fuel for the big battle of good vs evil. I felt cheated at the end. Taylor demonstrated an art for creating crisp and eccentric and fully realized characters at the opening of the book, then retreated from them and the story of two families–one white and one black–in order to fulfill his larger themes. Ironically, he filled his canvas with more and more characters–too many to handle with care–and I got weary of the soapbox, even though I agreed with his politics.

This could have been a five-star book; the author has a gift for storytelling, and, when he chooses to, solid characterization. The scenes of Ledford as a marine were powerful and the men in the corps were superbly depicted. The problems ensued when he traded out the rich and textured story for the grand platform. At that point, individuals became either caricatures or cursory sketches. Taylor gets his point across, and at times I was captivated; however, it was uneven and too often rhetorical. Nevertheless, I have faith in Taylor’s skill as a writer, and I will undoubtedly be in line for his next


The Invisible Bridge

The invisible bridge - julie orringer

p-image-36″ />World War II and the Holocaust have been covered so extensively in so many formats, and yet there are so many under represented stories.

This book takes up one of these side stories, the story of Jews in Hungary, that didn’t make the textbooks or documentaries. And unlike textbook or documentary coverage, it brings the day-to-day realities of the war to life and will touch you in the way, only a personal story can.

Obviously this is historical fiction, which is different from a primary source, but the writing is authentic and either very well researched or edited by a very knowledgeable historian. So many historical fiction books lose credibility on

historic slips, but this book never does. When a new radio is described, it is Bakelite, not plastic. The words painted vivid pictures that had me craving croissants in Paris and Paprika and Potato dumplings in Hungary.

But the power of this book is that it will make you appreciate your warm bed, your clean sheets and each meal and trip to the grocery store by portraying what it was like when all these things were unavailable. It has been hard to get all of these deprivations out of my head since I finished the book. I have read remarkably few books that describe the hunger of those living in Europe as eloquently as this book.

It did take me a while to get into this book. 600 pages is pretty intimidating and it is dense in Jewish and

Hungarian names, but after 100 pages I was hooked and drag along. The writing is immensely readable and I felt a connection to the characters (enough so that I have to admit I flipped to the back to make sure at least someone made it through.) The book culminated in a marathon session when I just couldn’t put it down. It’s a powerful book that is high on my annual recommendation list., ,