The Name of the Wind

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I’m lucky to have a husband who loves to read as much, if not more, than I do. He devours books on his Kindle, while I prefer paper. This is not a huge issue between us, since we can both agree that this was a fabulous fantasy story.

Kvothe, an unassuming tavern owner has a secret past. When a famous chronicler wanders in after being robbed and recognizes him, Kvothe is persuaded to tell his story. The true one, that is. I won’t put in many details for the sake of spoilers.

We find Kvothe starting out in a troupe of performers with his parents, to a starving urchin living on the streets in the city of Tardean, to a young student at the University. This is a realistic, as well as magical world, but the magic is not so overblown as to disrupt the storytelling. There is a group of ghostly bad guys that pop up now and then.

The writing style is terrific and keeps the story moving along. The biggest problem was the character of Denna, his love interest.  I just didn’t feel like she was written well.

All in all though, an enjoyable read, if you like fantasy stories.

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Besides that, I’m getting ready for Christmas. We put up our big tree, and our cat is enjoying his time sleeping under it. At least he’s not knocking over ornaments like last year. I also put up a smaller tree with the teapot and cup and saucer ornaments I’ve been collecting over the years.

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Wow, that picture turned out huge! Here is a closeup of the ornaments. Maybe one is not needed!

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I hope everyone is enjoying their holidays, no matter what they are celebrating!

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

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…only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean?

Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?

I have been a reader most of my life. Since I was small, I inhaled books at a voracious rate. Growing up I read constantly, and chose to work for a degree in Literature. At the time, I wanted to be a librarian and spend my life surrounded by books. I studied the classics, both ancient and modern along with contemporary fiction, and major works of history. Later on, I read for pleasure and my shelves swelled with adventures, mysteries, drama, and republished old classics. Nook and Kindle have saved me the need to buy a bigger house for my books.

I say all this because Cloud Atlas is the best book I have ever read in my life. It is more than clever, it is brilliantly conceived and written. I have never read anything like it. The scope is enormous, and its powerful themes are penetrating and audacious.

The story is six interwoven narratives told forward and then backward in time. Each is written in a genre specific to the time and character. It stretches from the mid-1800s to hundreds or even thousands of years in the future. The Buddhist thread of reincarnation runs throughout, and we see the same characters in various roles and even different genders. But we find that people remain the same no matter where and when they are. There are “vicious acts and virtuous acts”  done with both shocking cruelty and profound compassion.

So what is it about? Power, and what some will do to justify, take, and keep it. Racism, greed, and slavery are familiar subjects. And the never-ending quest for more.

More what? I asked. Old Uns’d got everything.

Oh, more gear, more food, faster speeds, longer lifes, easier lifes, more power, yay. Now the Hole World is big, but it weren’t big ’nuff for that hunger what made Old Uns rip out the skies an’ boil up the seas an’ poison soil with crazed atoms an’ donkey bout with rotted seeds so new plagues were born an babbits was birthed…..

Valleysmen’d not want to hear, she answered, that human hunger birthed the Civ’lize, but human hunger killed it too.

But there are also selfless acts of courage, brilliance in both music and science, and camaraderie that experiences such affinity, it reaches out to find the each other throughout the ages.

Then a peculiar thing occurred. The beaten savage raised his slumped head, found my eye and shone me a look of uncanny, amicable knowing! As if a theatrical performer saw a long-lost friend the Royal Box and, undetected by the audience, communicated his recognition.

This is not a book for light readers. But I encourage people to step out from their comfort zones and take on this marvelous, astonishing story. It is truly unforgettable.

The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackson

92974843Elizabeth has just moved to Willow Cottage in the small village of Matravers and is quietly settling in. She pulls weeds, waits for a break in the weather in order to plant a holly hedge, and starts an herb garden. She makes oils and ointments to sell at the local farmer’s market and minds her own business. However, this solitary lady has a couple of secrets. First, she is a witch and is almost four hundred years old.  Second, she has spent most of that time on the run from an evil warlock named Gideon who made her immortal.

Tegan is a lonely teenager who meets Elizabeth one day while working on her holly hedge. Elizabeth politely tries to rebuff her but the girl is fascinated and comes back again and again. Bonds of friendship are formed and Elizabeth begins to tell her the story of her past, although at first the girl just thinks she is giving family history.

She tells of Bess, a headstrong young woman in the early 1600’s who’s family is almost entirely destroyed by the plague. It would have taken Bess’ life as well but her mother entered into a bargain with a strange, scary man named Gideon who lived out in the woods. The repercussions of that act would be felt for many centuries. She also has a story about medicine in Victorian England and another one of nursing at the front lines in WW1. But when Elizabeth senses the presence of Gideon once again, she realizes that two people’s lives may be at stake this time.

This story is out of my usual genre but I really enjoyed reading it. One of the neat things about having Nook and Kindle is checking out all the sale and free books for the week. I have found many new authors this way. I just got Paula Brackston’s short story The Witches of Blue Well so if I come across a short story challenge, I might actually be tempted to join.

Great Granny Webster by Caroline Blackwood

Caroline Blackwood, heir to the Guinness fortune, recounts an unforgettable visit to her great-grandmother’s house. This aristocratic family also includes her frivolous but suicidal Aunt Lavinia and crazy fairy-loving grandmother who tried to kill her brother on his christening day.

After a minor surgical procedure, fourteen year old Caroline went to recuperate at her great grandmother’s house near the sea.  Great Granny Webster was a singular character. Although quite wealthy, she refused to heat or maintain her large freezing cold home and ate horrible food out of  cans. Her days were spent sitting in an uncomfortable high back chair doing nothing but staring into space. She wanted nothing from life and gave nothing back. She is a joyless, stingy creature whose main goal in life seems to be simply existing until she dies.

At one point GGW tells Caroline that she takes after herself and will receive her bed when she dies. Caroline is horrified at the thought of both. Her Aunt Lavinia on the other hand seems determined to get every scrap of fun out of life. The minus side is she often tries to kill herself.  Caroline never met her grandmother but a mutual acquaintance fills in the details of her descent into madness and subsequent attempt to kill her brother. He also sheds light on the possible reasons her father, killed when she was nine in the war, was a frequent visitor at GGW’s house. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t for the money.

This book was supposed to be a dark comedy and there certainly was plenty to work with. But the comedy part fell flat and ended up sounding bitter and rather redundant. The part where GGW  brought out her daughter “out” into London society could have been hilarious.  But over and over again we read what a monster and all around horrible person Great Granny Webster was. Seriously it went on and on. Describe people and situations and let the readers decide for themselves, please.

Caroline Blackwood was supposedly a great beauty and “dazzling raconteur” but in my opinion, not a great writer.  The greatest disappointment was that I thought Great Granny Webster would be one of my favorites for this year.

 

What I Read While Stressed Out

Ok, so I’ve been under an inordinate amount of stress lately. What’s so new about that? I took the drug test for the nursing program today and tomorrow I go to sign enrollment forms and my life away. So at least I only have one day to worry about my pee vial getting switched with some druggy and ruining my life. Yeah, I admit some of my stress is self-induced and highly unlikely to occur but hey, that’s just my way.

During this process my choice of reading has been slightly off kilter. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis was first for no particular reason. If you ever saw this movie and thought it was too violent than do not read this book. I have never read anything like it for violence and the torture and inhumane treatment of others is truly sickening. If you can’t get past that, then there is no story and there most definitely is one. Many people call it being inside of the mind of a serial killer. But is it really?

Most of the book details the life of a young, handsome, physically fit, rich young man who works for a powerful Wall Street firm. His life is enviable for many; he buys the best of everything, parties, dines at trendy restaurants.  But inside he is narcissistic, an envious and contemptuous empty shell. How he destroys others is detailed in graphic ways that I will not elaborate on. Most reviewers have used this story as a metaphor for the emptiness of the 80’s, wealthy people get away with everything, blah, blah blah, bad yuppies.

And I have to admit that at the beginning I fell into this line of reasoning too. But during the last third of the story several details come to light including one major revelation that turns the whole thing sideways. My opinion for whatever it’s worth? I don’t think he did any of those murders. It was all in his head. Go ahead and read it, if you dare that is, and really focus on things that are happening and you just might agree with me. Oh and by the way, when taking a break from killing sprees, he is pretty hilarious.

The second book I read was Fight Club. Remember that movie? It was on a couple of weeks ago and I watched part of it after work one night. Edited for TV of course. That, plus those dang commercials ruined it.  But the first time I saw it years ago I loved it and was honestly surprised at the big reveal.  Fight Club is one of the few movies that is actually as good as the book. And it’s a great read.

Fight Club is yet another book that is used as soap box social commentary which for me is oh, so tiresome. If I have to hear another long-winded, America is going to Hell sermon that starts with the words “today’s youth” I may start my own fight club.

Not that I can imagine wanting someone to punch me. Or me wanting to punch someone else for that matter. But hey, whatever floats your boat.

I think I’ve had it for senseless violence for now. It was a weird break from normal and I’m ready to get back to my usual crime dramas and murder mysteries, where people are murdered in much more civilized ways.  Scratch that. Maybe it’s time to pick up a nice cross stitch project.

 

Historical Fiction – The Antidote to a Really Bad Week?

But no, I’m not going to talk about it. Just trust me, bad. Once the dust settled I wanted to settle down with a good book.  On a whim, I clicked on The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick in my Nook library. It was on sale a couple of months ago and I snagged it along with To Defy a King. Just a few pages in and I was hooked! It’s about the life of William Marshall, a 12th century knight at the time of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. I had already read a rather dry biography of the royal pair but this story brought them all to life. Marshall is very skilled and known for his loyalty, even when it costs him dearly.

What is it about history that is so comforting? The story is filled with war, family infighting, intrigue of every sort, envy, and betrayal. You know, just like real life. It also has loyalty, love, and hope which is real life also. We all have difficult people to deal with and not all situations end well. In fact, many are tragic. But the bigger picture shows that life and family are good, and so worth the energy and love we put into it.

Sorry if that sounds a little dramatic. I’m feeling very thoughtful these days and need to change gears. Since I finished the book I decided to start a little cross stitch project by Country Cottage Needleworks for my daughter whose baby girl is due in two weeks!!  I hope the blue background doesn’t look too boyish. It’s just supposed to be the sky. Melissa used to sing You Are My Sunshine when she was little and sounded so cute. This reminds me of her.

I hope everyone has a good week and Happy Reading!!

The Benefactress by Elizabeth Von Armin

In this amusing yet insightful story of good intentions gone horribly wrong, Elizabeth Von Armin takes a slightly darker turn than her usual light musings.  Though the world has changed much in the hundred years since this was written, people definitely have not.

Anna comes from a good English family but like many, have no money left and rely on marriage to get it. Her sister-in-law Susie has lots of money and took it upon herself to provide opportunities for Anna to get to that state all girls need to be in. Marriage. And not just anyone you happen to fancy. A proper marriage is to someone with money, no matter how old, awful, or undesirable they may be.

Though very pretty, Anna somehow does not marry, and prefers to spend afternoons in a beautiful church rather than interminable hours socializing with the rich yet unpopular Susie.  What she wants in life is both unheard of and dreadful. Anna wants to help others. When she inherits a property in Northern Germany she feels this is the answer to her prayers. But even out in the country with one’s own money and home Anna cannot escape the drama that others fill their lives with. The story is very amusing and quietly moving.

Elizabeth von Armin is one of those people I wish I knew in real life. Her love of nature, simple living, and solitude finds a kindred soul within me. Like no one else she understands women and the pressures they are under. In her writings, she creates beautiful sanctuaries for herself and invites us to join her. Here in the Benefactress, the haven designed to give a good life for others doesn’t go as she planned; in fact, quite the opposite. Giving seems so noble, in reality Anna’s life becomes enmeshed with drama queens, a power-hungry misogynist, envious neighbors, and plots to steal her money. There was also a hint of anti-Semitism from one of the characters, which given what happened a few decades down the road, was quite disturbing indeed.

I dream about solitude these days. How I would love to have time to center myself in a beautiful garden setting and become me again. But life thrusts its way into everything and responsibility weighs me down. I wonder what would happen if I were to inherit a self-sustaining property out in the country.  Would it be wonderful forever or fraught with difficulties like Anna’s little haven? Since you can’t escape problems or people, I have a feeling more of the latter.

But that’s ok. I’ll read Enchanted April where everything was perfect. Because we all need a daydream escape.