Monday, August 27, 2012

Book Report Monday: The Paris Wife

Title: The Paris Wife

Author: Paula McLain

Genre: Fiction

Synopsis: A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill-prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: I love Hemingway. I loved A Moveable Feast. I even loved Midnight in Paris.

Favorite Line: "When I saw the rats the first time, I wanted to drop my basket where it was and run away, but we weren't rich enough for symbolic gestures. So I walked."

My Review: Hadley is a straight forward narrator, though at times she felt like a cardboard cut out delivering information, rather than a woman falling in love with a troubled young man on the brink of literary success. I feared that Hadley was a means to frame a well-researched Hemingway biography and call it a novel but maybe that is because as a writer and a Hemingway fan I found it hard to connect with her as a narrator.

I understood her desire to be with her husband and I pitied her loneliness when he was gone on assignment or lost in a world full of sentences. But I could not empathize with her. It takes a certain kind of person to be with a writer and Hadley wasn't made for it. She won't be happy being with someone who's talent intimidates her, she can't share her husband with his work. She's not happy being independent and I think that writers need supportive partners who can occupy themselves without feeling envious or jilted while the writer writes.

Though having her as a narrator stopped me from loving the novel, I still enjoyed it. There were many parts that expanded on A Moveable Feast and I loved them. As a whole the novel felt true, which Hemingway would have liked. McLain manages to write many beautiful and honest sentences, such as the one with the rats. And that is what really saved it for me. I would definitely read other books by McLain.

Recommendation: Good for anyone interested in Hemingway or Paris in the 20's.

Next Week: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Report Monday: The Last Werewolf

Title: The Last Werewolf

Author: Glen Duncan

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Synopsis: Meet Jake. A bit on the elderly side (he turns 201 in March), but you'd never suspect it. Nonstop sex and exercise will do that for you--and a diet with lots of animal protein. Jake is a werewolf, and after the unfortunate and violent death of his one contemporary, he is now the last of his species. Although he is physically healthy, Jake is deeply distraught and lonely.

Jake's depression has carried him to the point where he is actually contemplating suicide--even if it means terminating a legend thousands of years old. It would seem to be easy enough for him to end everything. But for very different reasons there are two dangerous groups pursuing him who will stop at nothing to keep him alive.

Here is a powerful, definitive new version of the werewolf legend--mesmerising and incredibly sexy. In Jake, Glen Duncan has given us a werewolf for the twenty-first century--a man whose deeds can only be described as monstrous but who is in some magical way deeply human.

One of the most original, audacious, and terrifying novels in years.

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: Sometimes books just won't leave you alone. I first added The Last Werewolf to my Goodreads "To Read" list when I saw it on the New York Times' 100 Notable Books of 2011. I kept hearing about it and finally got it from the library.

Favorite Lines:  "There are beautiful women in Manhattan who would have married me on the spot for the charm I had over their mutts."

"Just live in it and let it bring what it brings."

My Review:  I was hooked by the opening scene. It wasn't the devil may care, intelligent, snarky tone of the narrator, Jake Marlowe-werewolf, womanizer, scotch drinker. Though all of that played a part, it was more personal. Jake was relaxing with some fancy booze and a Camel filter while his friend smoked a Gauloises. Fortunately, for my lungs and lifespan, I quit smoking years ago. But while still full of bad habits, I enjoyed both brands.

I started smoking heavily during my semester in Italy because, well do I need to explain? I tried Gauloises because they were recommended by a cute bartender. They're a French brand, not sold in the States. I figured if you're going to smoke, it might as well be French cigarettes and if you're going to have the hots for a bartender, he should be infuriatingly aloof and Dutch.

Marlowe is a werewolf James Bond...who eats people. This isn't a monster with a morally-instituted Vegan diet. Make no mistake about it every month when the moon gets full, Marlowe gets an appetite for a human being. Nothing else can satisfy him. Despite this, I was rooting for him to find his will to go on living another 200 years, to kill and eat thousands of people.

From a fantasy standpoint, it was refreshing to read a werewolf-centric story. Too often they are bit players in  the vampire show.

Duncan walks the line of werewolf mythology pretty closely. He addresses how one becomes a werewolf and the effects of silver and wolfsbane. He makes a few alterations as well. Most notably that a werewolf not only eats people but consumes their life. The description reminded me of vampires who absorb memories of their victims through blood.

After centuries of monthly feasts, he carries thousands of lives with him, giving dual meaning to his pronouncement, "I just don't want any more life."

Recommendation: Not for the faint of heart. Some scenes are as bloody and scandalous as an episode of True Blood. In my opinion, the novel would appeal to non-fantasy readers who enjoy smartly written and/or darkly comic novels.

Next Week: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Middle of Things

At present, I'm in the midst of several writing projects. It seems an apropos position to be in today, considering it's the middle of the week, middle of the month and smack in the middle of August's two full moons.

For the most part, I'm an organized and patient person who is rarely lacking in focus, so it's an unsettling place for me. My apartment is full of scraps of paper. I find them in my closet on top of my belts and on the end table where I had an idea the other day while reading. I don't even bother to put my laptop away anymore. It just stays on the dining room table because that's where I work best. 

I worry when I step back and consider the three projects I have up in the air. One which, I realized is actually only the first half of the story. When I wrote it, I thought it would have a sequel but now I see how short and lacking in substance it is. I'm excited to be editing it and I want to write the second half to tie it up, but wasn't I supposed to finish writing my YA Retelling? I'm excited about that story too. And I have notes from beta readers for my YA Fantasy which I was going to edit into a polished fourth draft...or will it be the fifth draft already? And what about the new story ideas bouncing around, begging to be written?

As you can see, I'm a bit frazzled.

It's good to leave your comfort zone or so I've been told. Maybe it will shake things up and influence my writing for the better. Or maybe it will end with tears and chocolate chip cookies. But if the worst case scenario involves cookies, what am I stressing about?

What I need to do is tackle one project at a time and see it through to completeness, then move on to the next. I'm not sure why but that makes me nervous, as if left unattended my other manuscripts will grow disconsolate and unreadable.

But that's just silly, right?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Report Monday: Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon

Title: Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon (Burton & Swinburne #3)

Author: Mark Hodder

Genre: Steampunk

Synopsis: It is 1863, but not the one it should be. Time has veered wildly off course, and now the first moves are being made that will lead to a devastating world war and the fall of the British Empire.

The prime minister, Lord Palmerston, believes that by using the three Eyes of Naga—black diamonds possessing unique properties—he’ll be able to manipulate events and avoid the war. He already has two of the stones, but the third is hidden somewhere in the Mountains of the Moon, the fabled source of the Nile.

Palmerston sends Sir Richard Francis Burton to recover it. For the king’s agent, it’s a chance to redeem himself after his previous failed attempt to find the source of the great river. That occasion had led to betrayal by his partner, John Hanning Speke. Now Speke is leading a rival expedition on behalf of the Germans, and it seems that the battle between the former friends may ignite the very war that Palmerston is trying to avoid!

Caught in a tangled web of cause, effect, and inevitability, little does Burton realize that the stakes are far higher than even he suspects.

A final confrontation comes in the mist-shrouded Mountains of the Moon, in war- torn Africa of 1914, and in Green Park, London, where, in the year 1840, Burton must face the man responsible for altering time: Spring Heeled Jack!

Burton and Swinburne’s third adventure is filled with eccentric steam-driven technology, grotesque characters, and bizarre events, completing the three-volume story arc begun in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack and The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man

(from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: I read the series at the behest of Jason, my Steampunk writer friend.

Favorite Lines: "Good grief! It's 1918 and that's still considered unconventional? Has the human race not evolved at all since my time?"

"I haven't a clue! I'm just a poet! But you'll find a way."

My Review: There were parts, predominately in the first half of the story, which were all about the African journey. I'm more interested in the characters driving the plot than the foliage and the heat and the way of the African landscape shimmered and blossomed in all its wild glory around Captain Burton. Though many people would undoubtedly enjoy being taken on a safari, I was distracted. And as a result the first half dragged a bit. The main plot was touched upon, but only just. I trusted Hodder to get there eventually but if there has been a little more to keep me curious I would have turned the pages faster.
That wasn't an issue for me in the first two books which were page turners from start to finish. The second half was character driven and I finished it in a few long reading sessions. I enjoyed the culmination of the bifurcated timeline. I thought it merged seamlessly.

One of my favorite things about the series were the geneticists, scientists who alter the genetic make up of plants and animals. That's how they move technology and industry forward. They turn dogs into mail carriers, breed swans big enough to ride, make a pistol out of a cactus, etc. Yet all these inventions come with a hilarious design flaw. The messenger parrots are my favorite. You recite your message, the bird memorizes it and flies off to repeat the message to the recipient. Handy for the 1860's, no? Or it would be but the parrots interject their own colorful language into the message, insulting the message recipient with inventive verbal abuse.

Recommendation: The series as a whole is a great for anyone interested in Steampunk.

Next Week: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan