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.

Books Read in 2012 – Or, A Year Interrupted

TSSbadge4[1]This year I read just 34 books. I knew going in that it was not going to be a high count. With work, school, and all my other commitments, I simply had very little time to read for pleasure. However, I took much care in choosing the books I read. Of course there were a few dogs, there always are. I was careful in trying to locate well reviewed books, in many different genres, in order to have a solid, if pitifully small body of works read by the end of the year.

Top Five Books of the Year in no particular order:

92689786The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier – taking place in the fifteenth century, this story is a fictional account about the commission and creation of the series of six tapestries that now hang in the Musee du Moyen-Age, in Paris, France.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – two illusionists compete against the backdrop of a fantastical black and white circus.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – children compete to the death in a game of power and control.

82714967The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson – a clever interweaving of two stories: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the construction of the Chicago 1893 World’s Fair and H.H.Holmes, a serial killer who designed  his own torture and murder house.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – a woman goes missing and everything points to her husband. But things aren’t always as they seem.

Most Challenging Book:

29182687The Satanic Verses by Salmon Rushdie – I will definitely reread this incredibly complex work someday. It contains highly fantastical elements along with history, legend, and family drama. This is a very controversial work in the Muslim community. If any of my Muslim fb friends feel offended that I read this, please know it was not meant in any way as an insult to you or your faith. To be honest, I do not know enough about your religion to even judge this book according to those aspects.  My ignorance in that regard has challenged me to research and understand your beliefs better. I welcome your comments.

Book Club Books:

92689820Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A.S. Byatt – I read this for Slaves of Golconda. A young girl who escapes from the London bombings with her mother passes the time reading Norse mythology. Mythology can be quite daunting, but it was a surprising little read. Thinking back, I haven’t read mythology beside the Metamorphoses by Ovid and I barely know any Norse mythology. Check it out.

I thought I would also present my list of cross stitch finishes. Yep, here it is, my list of one.

DSC00827You are My Sunshine by Country Cottage Needleworks. I did this for my brand new granddaughter back in May when she was born.

Pretty pathetic, I know. I have so many WIP’s but at some point this year they were put on the top shelf in my closet. I knew I wouldn’t get to them. Probably most of this year will be the same. But they will wait for me.

I hope everyone had a fantastic reading year. Looking forward to 2013!

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.

 

Sunday Salon – Old and New Genres

I read an outstanding book this week. I know already that it will be on my list of favorite books read in 2012. This is Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel The Night Circus, a beautifully crafted novel with magically wondrous imagery.

The actual plot of the story is a little disturbing.  Five-year old Celia arrives at the circus to meet her father Prospero the Enchanter after her mother commits suicide. After seeing her spectacular gifts in illusion he calls his friend Hector Bowen to stage a mysterious contest using her and someone of his choosing. After selecting a boy seemingly at random from the orphanage, Hector raises him solely to be part of this contest with Celia. The two illusionists learn that their only role in life is to be a pawn for the two men and must proceed without knowing the rules or when the game will end. Little do they know that the contest is over when one of them is dead.

The venue for the contest is The Night Circus, the extraordinary brainchild of Chandresh Christophe Lefevre and the two eventually become aware of the other’s identity. But what are two illusionists to do when they are in love and yet pitted against each other for the greatest stakes?

I so wanted to visit the Night Circus with its series of black and white tents, each holding a single event. Each tent is more fantastic than the last. Unbeknownst to Chandresh the two illusionists are creating additional tents with increasingly wondrous sights and experiences.

The abuse the two children experienced at the hands of their fathers was quite disturbing, Celia with physical and Marco with psychological. They were trapped for the whole of their lives to these two monsters. Yet, despite it all,  they managed to create something beautiful and love each other. It’s an uplifting story and I heartily recommend it.

It’s almost anticlimactic to talk about Silent Partner by Jonathon Kellerman. It’s a formulaic crime drama with a child psychologist as the investigator. Kellerman has been writing them for years but somehow I didn’t read this one from the 1980’s. His older ones are much, much better and I enjoyed this one quite a bit. It’s about two twins, the good and the bad, but because of their secrecy, it gets tangled up and it’s hard to know what is true or not. Of course there is the twist at the end that I wasn’t expecting and it all came together for one of those guilty pleasure type dramas.

The Passion of Artemisia and Jar City: Rape Through the Ages

“Paint it out of you, carissima.  Paint out the pain until there’s none left.  Don’t take on shame from their mockery.”
 Sister Graziela   (The Passion of Artemisia)

I didn’t intend to read a story about the horrors and aftermath of rape, much less two of them back to back. But the similarities of personal anguish amidst the different settings were so striking that I decided to put these two reviews together. While reading Jar City I began comparing and contrasting the two books in my head. First of all, the genres are different. The Passion of Artemisia is a historical fiction about a real seventeenth century painter while Jar City is a modern Icelandic crime drama. Both came highly recommended, one by a fellow book blogger, one by my hubs. You gotta read this!

The Passion of Artemisia was written by a woman, Jar City by a man. Yet both understood how women are revictimized over and over again through the criminal and justice systems as well as by their own families. None of the rape victims ever saw anything approaching justice their whole lives. Artemisia was raped before her marriage with her husband having full knowledge of what happened. Katrin was married and told her husband forty years later. Both women were abandoned, one by a womanizing husband, the other literally left. Kolbrun never married.

Interesting thing about the so-called criminal justice systems of both times. The men had a front of belief that the woman was the “whore” and “liar”. Both stories featured evidence that was ignored, destroyed, or willfully misinterpreted. Artemsia was tortured to admit her own guilt while the Icelandic Kolbrun was mocked and humiliated. Corrupt men were at the justice helm in both stories. One was in a religious capacity, the other a policeman. It makes me think about the last couple of months in America. Bad, really bad men have some truly great hiding places.

The Passion of Artemisia will top my list of best books of 2011. It is a wonderfully written story about a great painter and woman. Artemisia was a talented, incredibly strong person who did not change her story under torture. I love her for that.  When she was commissioned to paint Lucretia, a woman who committed suicide after being raped, she decided to go in a different direction.

 “This isn’t the Lucretia everyone expects her to be,” Orazio said.  “I know.  But it’s got to be this way, that she isn’t sure, so people looking at it a long time from now, women and men too, might feel badly, might even weep that at some ignorant time there was once a woman raped who was pressured, even expected, to kill herself.”

If only. Artemisia chose to paint Judith slaying Holofernes several times through the course of her life. In one, her Agostino Tassi’s face was on the head in the basket. It did not please her at all.

I couldn’t make the greenish gray face look like anything other than Agostino’s.  That bothered me. I didn’t want to paint out of hate.

Personally I think putting your rapist’s face on a head in a basket would be rather cathartic. Not Artemisia. She is on a higher plane of moral development. I don’t want to give away the story but her search for forgiveness was ongoing, like the betrayals by those who should have stood by her.

Jar City was also a good read.  The title had an unexpected and disturbing meaning. Definitely not for the squeamish.  Inspector Erlander has his own set of problems, chiefly amongst those a drug addicted, train wreck of a daughter. Unlike Orazio Gentileschi however, he did not abandon his daughter to the bad guys. And that was probably the greatest contrast of the two books.

Sunday Salon – Reading for Fun

Reading for fun, what is that? Now that I finally can sit down and actually do just that, it opens fresh perspectives. Since August I have been wrapped up in getting my med aid license. To those of you who don’t know what a CMA (Certified Medication Aid) does, we are the ones who actually dispense medication to patients. In my case, it will be a nursing/skilled rehab facility. We give standard meds like thyroid, blood pressure, etc, and also narcotics, which must be counted at the beginning of each shift.

The class was basically a crash pharmacology course and very difficult. The background check, as you might guess, was extensive. The whole FBI thing. But my license finally came through a few days ago, yeah!! Now I can get back to my life again!

I grabbed a book from my TBR shelf and inhaled it! How sweet it was to just read! I finished it last night, how refreshing that was. This was my first by Jennifer Egan and I quite enjoyed it. Her storytelling skills are evident throughout and I hope to write a full review on it sometime soon.

On other fronts we are getting ready for Christmas. Jim found a temporary job at UPS for the holidays that hopefully will lead to full-time employment. He has been working part-time for a year now. To be honest it hasn’t been bad. He keeps the house in good order, does the chores, and has been experimenting with pizza dough and just made a fabulous home-made chicken noodle soup. Since we have enough to get by with our jobs, I’m kind of liking having everything done.

This is our little grandson looking at our tree. Everything is so brand new for them! He was enthralled when he saw all the ornaments but all he wanted to do was put them in his mouth. We took him last weekend to get his picture taken with Santa and he did very well.

I started reading The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland after finishing The Keep. It’s quite a bit different than Egan’s gothic crime ghost story. This is a historical fiction of the very real painter Artemisia Gentileschi, the only woman ever to be accepted into the Florence’s prestigious Academia for art. Google her and take a look at her work, her paintings are fantastic! I’ve been wanting the read this for some time now.

Sorry this Sunday Salon was just a mish mash post but I’m trying to bring everything up to the present. Hopefully I’ll have more to say about books next week.

Hope everyone has a great week!