Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
This story is set in Brooklyn in 1912 through 1917.  It follows the life of a poor family, the Nolans, mainly from the point of view of the precocious Francie.  I really liked it, I thought it was an easy read, the characters were likable and relatable. I even liked Johnny (the drunken father), I have a soft spot for characters who are truthful with themselves. He knew he was a drunk, he tried to do right by his family, but he never denied what he was. I think stopping drinking is what actually killed him, he was going through withdrawal and that is why his hands shook so. I loved that Francie had a love of reading and how her mother cultivated it. I understand Katie's desperation to give her kids a better life than she had herself, I think that is what all parents want. I can relate to the being poor, although as a kid we weren’t that bad off, or if we were my parents did a better job of hiding it that Katie did. I didn’t like the ending though, the whole novel felt so real and gritty, and then the fairytale came true that they had enough money and the kids could finish school thanks to Daddy Warbucks, I mean officer McShane. If Francie had continued to fight and put herself through school it would have seemed much truer to the story to me and I would have been happier. But overall I liked the book.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History
This is the final BOTM book for 2012.  I wish I could say the year ended on a high note, but I can’t. 
The Secret History, the first novel by Mississippi-born writer Donna Tartt, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1992. The story is an inverted detective story, not a Whodunit but a Whydunit.  It is set in New England, The Secret History tells the story of a closely knit group of six classics students at a small, elite Vermont college, Hampden College. The novel explores the circumstances and lasting effects of a student’s death on the academically and socially isolated group of Classics students of which he was a part.
We meet the Narrator Richard Papen in the prologue, and he is reflecting, years later, on the situation that led to a murder within the group, the murder being confessed at the outset of the novel but the events otherwise revealed sequentially.   In the prologue we find out that 5 students kill their classmate Edmund “Bunny” Corcoran, although few details are given. In the first few chapters, we meet all the main characters and participants of the classics group: Henry Winters, Francis Abernathy, Charles Maculay, Camilla Maculay, and of course our dead student Bunny. Richard, is an outsider, whom has managed to get himself invited to join the very exclusive Classics department student body, of which is comprised solely of these six students. While reading about it, it has a cult like feel, and the teacher Julian is the leader. There are a lot of secrets that happen behind the scenes of the group that Richard is not privy to when he first joins but that are slowly revealed throughout the novel. The original five members are the typical rich kids who have no concept of the real world around them, and Richard is trying so hard to fit in that he comes up with a completely bogus past that is what he thinks they will accept. Richard is of course in love with Camilla, who doesn’t even register him on her romantic radar. So predictable.
We come to find out that Henry, Francis, Charles and Camilla, whom I have dubbed the fantastic 4 (can you tell what my 3 year old has me watching?), while creating some sort of Greek ritual, murder some poor farmer in his field. They of course have no memory of it but were covered in blood and gore, so know they are responsible. Bunny wasn’t there but he finds out shortly after it happens because he sees them all gory. Of course the fantastic 4 want to cover up the murder, god forbid these spoiled brats stand trial, and lord help us get convicted for committing a murder! So they cover it up, for some reason, that I’m not clear on, Bunny doesn’t tell either. But he does begin to blackmail them by expecting expensive trips and meals etc. He makes a ton of sly jokes to get under their skin. Bunny is a greedy sot! Making Camilla iron his shirts and Henry take him to Rome, then wants Paris, which WE know isn’t going to happen. I think he really pushed the envelope, and since he was blackmailing them, I don’t feel as sorry for his death as I probably should. He is just a real ass in the end.
So because Bunny is blackmailing the fantastic 4, the only option to them is to commit another murder, really? Didn’t they ever hear the saying two wrongs don’t make a right? Then when Richard is told all this, again for some unknown reason he sides with the fantastic 4, and even becomes an accessory in Bunny’s murder. I don’t understand Richard’s thought process, I mean it’s not like the fantastic 4 are a great bunch of people, what is the draw?
And the plans, the elaborate and complicated schemes that Henry originally came up with, poisoned mushrooms, creating a whole back-story, and then they just push him off a cliff. Seemed a bit haphazard and out of character. Also it was dull, the murder was boring, they waited on a path, when he came up they pushed him off the cliff. No arguments, no excitement, just bye bye.
The search for Bunny's body took forever to find and the funeral was a joke.   Then Richard is having nightmares, Francis is having panic attacks, Charles has become a drunkard. Guilt? About freaking time.   From the moment I found out Charles was angry at Camilla and Henry I knew that they were sleeping together and that was what Charles was so angry about. What I didn’t see coming was that Charles and Camille was in some incestual relationship not just a onetime thing for the bacchanal. Ewwww. Totally made me think of Flowers in the Attic.
I was happy when Richard began to connect the dots and see that Henry had masterminded and manipulated the whole situation. What I am confused about is why he did it? I mean he just ended up killing himself, so what was the point? I thought Henry was going to kill Charles and because Richard was shot call it defense. I agree turning the gun on himself was out of the blue and it didn’t seem in line with the character. I also thought that Henry trying to kill Charles and I thought maybe Henry killed them all and Richard was writing his memoirs so that when Henry came for him the authorities would know who did it. I was just hoping for a better ending I guess.
The reading bored me, the storyline is slow and this academia stuff makes me want to nap. I want the book to hurry up and get to the action of the murder already, then it skips it and goes to the boring aftermath. None of the characters are likable, and mostly they are bores, literally. Although, on a side note, I think Bunny would have been a great employee of Mr. Wednesday from American Gods.  I sort of wish we had Bunny’s perspective of things.  I didn’t absolutely hate this book like I have some we read earlier in the year, but I won’t re-read it either. I finished it and on time so that is an accomplishment.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Book Four of Merlin’s Decedents: Guardians of the Promise by Irene Radford

Guardian of the Promise
I received this eBook free from the LibraryThings early reviewer program.  This is the fourth book in a series of novels focusing on the mythical bloodline of Merlin. As this was the fourth book, I decided when I received it that I would find and download the first three in the series.  I hate coming in to the middle of a series.  I have already posted my reviews of the prior three books.  This story is set about 13 years after “Guardian of the Vision,” which places the story in the 16th century, it is about the children of Griffin and Donovan Kirkwood, whom were the protagonists of “Guardian of the Vision.” The main protagonist is Deidre (Dee) Kirkwood the illegitimate daughter of Griffin Kirkwood and Roanna Douglas.  Unlike the prior books in this series, to know what is happening, the reader really does need to read at least the third book if not the entire series first.  In this installment Elizabeth still rules and England is plagued by werewolves.  There is confusion as to who will be the next Pendragon, Dee or one of her Cousins Hal (whom Dee is in love with) or her other cousin Betsy (who is insane).  This book spans a 16 year period and we see Dee, Hal and Betsy grow from pre-teens to adults.  The Antagonist is Meneur de Loups more commonly known as El Lobison and his pet Werewolf Yassmine.
Many of the characters from “Guardian of the Vision” return in this book, so it was nice to know the backstory, although I suppose maybe if I hadn’t read the earlier novels this one wouldn’t have seemed so tedious.  This book took me 2 tries and 4 months to read, I was just unable to focus on the story and had to take copious notes to not forget what happened from one chapter to the next.  I think Radford made the same mistake in this book as she did in “Guardian of the Vision,” instead of focusing on and developing one character she spread herself to thin developing multiple characters.  Radford had Dees storyline, Hal’s storyline, Betsy’s storyline, Donavan’s Storyline and Yassmine’s storyline.  It was too much.  I was unable to connect to any of the characters, they were all too shallow.  What I really liked about the first two books in the series (which focused on a single protagonist) was that Radford went deeply into the characters, I connected to them.  These last two books the characters are like shadows, an outline of what they could be with not enough detail to really see them.  Also Radford dwelled too much on the history and not enough on the story.  I like having historical facts being part of the story, but if I want to read only historical events and details I’ll pick up a history book.
Overall I give this book a 1 star.  I have also received the fifth installment in this series through the LibraryThing early reviewer program, but I am not looking forward to reading it.  I’m hoping Radford goes back to her writing style of the first two books, but I wouldn’t place money on it.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman

American Gods
Welcome to yet another BOTM club analysis.  Sometimes I am forced to read a book that drags and makes me pull my hair out to read, but this month is a winner.  Where have I been that I missed a) this book and b) this author.  American Gods is my favorite type of book one that takes something we think we know (in this case the classic myths) and adds a new twist.  I loved this read, even though my comments are taking a little bit to post because I had mommy duties get in the way.
American Gods is a strange road-trip story wrapped around a deep examination of the American belief system. The main character Shadow gets out of prison early when his wife is killed in a car crash. Shadow then takes up with a mysterious character called Mr. Wednesday, who is much more than he appears. Together they travel America rounding up forgotten Gods in preparation for an epic battle against the upstart deities of the Internet, credit cards, television, and all that is wired. Armed only with some coin tricks and a sense of purpose, Shadow travels through, around, and underneath the visible surface of things, digging up all the powerful myths Americans brought with them in their journeys to this land as well as the ones that were already here.
I think the Gods exist because of our faith, but they are tied to our Faith and as it fails and fades so do they. Let’s look at the new Gods, the television was created, people began to take time out of their day to watch it, i.e. worship it, and the TV god was created. She remains strong because people spend hours watching it every day. The Technology god seems computer based, and so let’s says he was created with the first computer. Look at how much we rely on our computers, we use them at home and work constantly, and become more dependent on them every day. We have faith that they will work, and will allow us to do our work faster so we can have more free time to do things like worship the TV god. Of them all that we haven't met I think the most powerful new god would be the internet god, it is everywhere, on our computer, our phones, our gaming systems. In fact I bet if this book was written now, there would be a Facebook god.
The first section is introducing us to the characters and getting the story of the new vs. old Gods set up. The second section of the book seemed a little ho hum. The running around and getting the gods on board with the plan just seemed like filler. The third section moved along much better, the war and the conclusion felt very solid.
I like Gaiman’s style of writing from the start – easy flow of the narrative. When I do sit down to read, the pages have just flown by and I’m way further in the story than it feels like. What does slow me down is writing down who the gods are and looking them up, if I was more disciplined I would have waited until the end of the reading to look them up, but then I think I would have missed some of the innuendos Gaiman put in, such as Odin being called Mr. Wednesday. I won’t list all my research here, because it would take up way too much time and room. All I will say is I am having lots of fun with it! Also I am loving all the quote potentials in this book, most of my notes are “quote – pg. blah blah” LOL I won’t bore you all with my notes on that front either.
I do want to make a comment on Mr. Wednesday, strangely, I have a mental picture of my high school drama teacher with red hair and I have no idea why, but as I read about him that is who I see. Although somehow I missed that Mr. Wednesday had only one eye until Chapter 4.
I like that Shadow’s last name is moon. I thought maybe he was a hidden hero from a myth, but when I looked him up all I could get was a reference to Japanese film Character from the Kamen Rider series and a book by Chris Claremont and George Lucas. The book was the continuation of the movie Willow (The Chronicles of the Shadow War), which makes me happy to know about and I will be looking to read the series, but still leaves me a little unfulfilled. I feel like with a great name of Shadow Moon there should be some mythological reference, like the shadow of the moon is where the Gods reside or something. Drat!
Shadow is special to the old Gods because of his acceptance, he doesn't fight against Mr. Wednesday and the things he see, he just accepts that is the way the world is and that I think gives the Old Gods a power, not as much power as belief and worship, but he still accepts them. I think that if the new Gods had reached out to Shadow first, I think he would have worked for the opposition; he doesn't have a stand besides getting paid. Again I think that is a part of what makes Shadow special, his acceptance, he accepted the old gods and he accepts the new gods, and he doesn’t take sides.
I have mixed feelings about Shadow and his dead wife Laura, who happens to be a walking corpse. Shadow talked to her 5 days before he was to be released and they exchanged “I love you’s.” Which is great and all because he got to tell her that before she died, and she did say that she wasn’t going to leave Shadow for Robbie. But still she was a cheater, I mean she died giving another guy a blow job, so leave poor Shadow alone already. I know that she is coming back because of Mad Sweeny’s coin, although I’m not a hundred percent sure why. But anyways back to Laura’s death, I find it interesting that Shadow had made up this whole story about Robbie being drunk, and in actuality he had it all backwards, Laura was the drunken one. It is like Shadow had his life with Laura backwards, I wonder if what he remembers ties to the reality of their relationship. And how does Laura follow him? I mean is this dead woman walking the highways following her husband, or does she manifest wherever he is? I think Shadow wants to bring Laura back because he feels it is his fault she is there. He thinks it has something to do with Mad Sweeney’s coin. And also, there was something in the first section after he talked to Zorya Polunchnayay about listening to the Dead and it is important to give them what they ask for, but I can’t find the passage. I don’t think he should do it, I think it will mess with the balance of the world, although he isn’t given the option he just kills her by taking back the coin in the end, so no balance upsets here.
What is up with all the coins being given: Low Key Lysmith, gives Shadow the coin he uses for all his coin tricks; Mad Sweeney gives him the coin that brings Laura back from the dead, Zorya Polunchnayay gives him a Silver Liberty Coin – Moon which is the moon. I am sure that there is a theme here that I have missed somehow, or that will be explained later, but all I seem to have noticed that Shadow collects coins not just does tricks with them.
And finally something that is mundane but really bothers me, isn’t Shadow on probation, I mean he just got out of prison early he should be and if so doesn’t he need to check in with his probation officer, and he couldn’t be traveling so much if he is on probation, to many permissions needed to go places. I mean I know it is fiction, but it just glares at me every time Shadow hits a new town. Which is why in Lakeside when Shadow got busted for skipping parole I did find it a little justifying; I even said out loud “I told you so!” Not my finest moment, but it still felt good to know Gaiman didn’t just forget the parole factor.
Although, I do really like all of Mr. Himzelman’s tall tales. Lakeside reminded me of the town from Gilmore Girls, very close knit and quirky in an idyllic setting, but instead of Luke’s they have Mabel’s. I think there is more to Lakeside and the disappearing children, but it seems like that should be a different story almost, it just didn’t fit well with me. I would read a book about the mystery of the Lakeside missing children, but it didn’t fit with this story. Mr. Himzelman being a kobold, or whatever he is did surprise me, I didn’t see that one coming at all. And I really liked his character too, I felt very betrayed.
Again this whole section felt like filler to me rather than moving the story along. I really felt like there must be more to Sam Black Crow, she didn’t seem as random as I thought she was as the hitchhiker. Although I was sad to find out that she really wasn’t all that important in the end.
In the third section when it talked about the Gods camped at lookout rock seemed a little jumbled to me, but I think that was because the Gods are half-forgotten and jumbled anyways. Also they are a very disorganized crew.
At the start of part 3, I went back to the first section and refreshed my memory of Mr. Wednesday and Shadow’s bargain. Mr. Wednesday would take care of Shadows needs and Shadow would:
  1. Protect Mr. Wednesday.
2. Transport Mr. Wednesday.
3. Run errands for Mr. Wednesday.
4. Hurt people for Mr. Wednesday, emergency situations only.
5. Hold a vigil for Mr. Wednesday.
It was the vigil that made me look it up; I wanted to know if the section talked anymore about the vigil. It didn’t I did see that Mr. Wednesday said “in the unlikely event of my death” when he made the bargain, it wasn’t an unlikely event. Mr. Wednesday knew full well that he was going to die. So if the bargain was made under false pretenses, did it null the bargain? How was Shadow supposed to protect Mr. Wednesday, if Mr. Wednesday had already planned his own death?
I looked up Louise Brooks, just because I wanted to know if she was real, apparently she was the iconic flapper from the 20’s and her signature was the bob haircut. She worked in silent films, and I recognized her picture, she also did one of the first lesbian scenes in a movie. Who knew that silent films could be so controversial? I feel like I should see if I can find one of her movies on TMC or Netflix or something, just to see what all the hype is about.
The fact that the whole war was a two man con thing, it didn't really surprise me, but I didn't predict it either. And we had definite foreshadowing of it. Mr. Wednesday was right, that his death did more for the cause than his life had. Mr. Wednesday did say it would take him 9 days to come back, 3 days in the tree, 3 days in the underworld, and 3 days to find his way back. That seems a little excessive, jeez Christ only took 3 days total to be resurrected. And how long was Shadow hanging in the tree? 9 days or years?
I liked the death of shadow, the journey was great, we got lots of stuff cleared up and answered. One thing that stuck with me was when Bast took his heart; it was the color or pigeon blood. Am I missing something, is pigeon blood a different color than other types of blood? I just feel like it was a weird simile, why pigeon blood? Oh and the squirrel, what was the point of the squirrel? So which way do we think Bast sent Shadow? The way that makes him wise or the way that makes him whole? I think he went the way that killed him, I mean he did die and all. Did Shadow become a Shadow, is that the result of him giving up his true name or the result of him taking the middle path?
Shadow being Mr. Wednesday's son didn't faze me either, again not surprised but didn’t predict either. I did have to look up the part where Mr. Wednesday said "Unfortunately for the most part people like me fire blanks....nowadays it’s possible, but so unlikely as to be almost unimaginable." So I guess we had foreshadowing, hehe fore shadowing. Sorry couldn’t help myself.
In the epilogue I was confused as to why Shadow was in Iceland, but I think it has to do with his powers. He made the Lakeside Sherriff, Chad forget what happened with Himzelman, then he gave Sam the flowers and she never saw him. I think he did become somewhat of a shadow.
Another thing I noticed was that when Laura killed Low Key that she said, “I dedicate this death to Shadow.” Low Key was supposed to say “I dedicate this battle to Odin” so they could absorb the power from the battle. I think he still did. But what does that mean for Shadow, because Laura dedicated the death to him, is he some semi-demi-god that could absorb Loki’s death power?
Overall I really like this book I was very excited to discover this author and I would defiantly recommend it as a read, just have your Google handy.
On separate side note, for those of you who do research, I was able to download a free version of the Histories of Herodotus from This is the book from prison that Low Key gave to Shadow.