On the surface Gone Girl reads like a whodunit thriller, and it makes a great summer read--but it’s also a literary novel in disguise with its imagery of a landscape of an economic wasteland, the characters’ moral bankruptcy, and its themes of identity and marriage. It’s been the book of the summer for me.
On their fifth anniversary, Nick Dunne comes home, and his wife Amy is gone. The initial crime scene: an open door, the ottoman turned over, broken glass, and the iron left on. Instead of beginning with “boy meets girl,” the plot starts with “boy loses girl.” Detectives arrive and the media circus begins.
Told in alternating he said/she said chapters, we learn the back story of Nick and Amy. Gilliam Flynn throws her readers red herrings with sneaky abandon. I found myself shifting loyalties back and forth from Team Amy to Team Nick and then being horrified and guiltily fascinated with both of them.
Vee Bell has narcolepsy in Slide by Jill Hathaway. Or at least that’s what her family and friends think. Once, Vee tried to tell her father the truth, but he sent her to a shrink who didn’t believe her either. Now she doesn’t even dare tell even her best friend.
Sliding. That’s what Vee thinks of it as. When she gets too tired to fight it, she falls asleep, but doesn’t dream. Instead, she enters other people’s minds. She can hear, smell, taste, and feel everything that they’re experiencing. Sliding only lasts for moments, but it is long enough to exhaust and sometimes scare her. She’s slid into backstabbing friends and teachers behaving badly. As a result, Vee takes constant caffeine pills to stay awake and is always just barely functioning.
Never Apologize for Your Reading Tastes. Libraries live by this adage from Betty Rosenberg. But, truthfully? We're all biased. There are those who won't get near a bestseller--reading only serious non-fiction, or, perhaps, literary fiction. My personal eye-rolling, disdainful sniffiness was aimed squarely at paperback romances. Until I actually, well, read some of them.
Google Chrome is arguably the most popular Web browser currently on the market. It took a few versions before I made the switch from Mozilla Firefox to Chrome, most notably due to Firefox's rich browser extension offerings. Chrome is finally catching up to, and in many ways, surpassing Firefox with its extensions library. A browser extension is special program written specifically for a Web browser that, as the name implies, extends its functionality.
Chloe and the Lion is not about a young girl facing off with a ferocious feline, no matter what the title says. Sure, Chloe's present, saving up her nickels and dimes to ride the merry-go-round. She does, in fact, spin around that ride so many times that she gets dizzy and lost in the nearby woods. It is at that very point that Chloe should meet a lion. Instead, a large, ferocious, winged, burgundy dragon steps out.
Writing a picture book is hard work. You must have a solid story, likable characters, and the right choice of words. What's more, this delicate balance can be completely thrown out of whack by a maverick illustrator who thinks that "a dragon would be cooler."
Some recent R&R with too many cold and rainy days left me plenty of time for pleasure reading. No, unlike most of America, I wasn’t reading Fifty Shades of Grey, but much tamer pursuits and with young adult appeal.
Author Melina Marchetta is a master of making even the most unlikeable characters endearing and “Froi of the Exiles” is no exception. Before he attacked the woman who is his Queen, Froi only knew the horrors and abuse of the streets. Now, as her most trusted and loyal servant, and most lethal weapon, Froi is the obvious choice when she needs an assassin. His disguise puts him in close proximity to a seemingly mad princess burdened with the hope of her kingdom, who sometimes calls herself Quintana and at others, Reginita. Froi admires her ability to provide much needed emotional self-preservation and decides to teach her the skills she needs for physical protection as well. When she puts her new talents to use, she, Froi and the ragtag group of misfits he’s collected, including an embattled architect and a drunken monk, flee the palace seeking refuge. I recommend this for older teens because of the frequently dark subject matter, but there is a dry humor and banter that made me laugh out loud despite its seriousness. Deliciously complex, its biggest fault is that at over 600 pages it’s heavy!
A good friend headed off to a new life last week. I am thrilled with the happy events that led her to these new adventures, but miss her terribly. I hadn’t expected it to be so hard considering I’m, well, let’s just say of an age when I have experienced my share of changes. It’s renewed my sympathy for any younger person facing a move, either his own or a friend’s. Luckily there are some wonderful children’s books that can serve as a discussion starter or maybe just as a way to validate their feelings. I know I appreciated living vicariously through the petulance of the characters in the first two books!
The title says it all in “Alexander, Who’s Not (Do you hear me? I mean it!) Going to Move” by Judith Viorst. Alexander is age appropriately melodramatic about his impending move. According to him, he’ll never again have a best friend like Paul or a great sitter like Rachel. The new cleaners won’t save anything they find in his pockets even if it’s gum wrappers or an old tooth. Anything is preferable to moving, even living in the weeds next to his friend’s house and getting poison ivy. His understanding parents reassure him that he will find boys his age and a new sitter. His brother tells Alexander that he can sleep in his room if he gets lonesome. Slightly persuaded, Alexander decides that although he still doesn’t like it, he’ll pack He does have one caveat: this is the last time (Do you hear me? I mean it) he’s going to move!
In Train Dreams, Denis Johnson constructs a melancholy portrait of the U.S. frontier. Instead of focusing on the raw potential and opportunity most associate with the Western expansion, Johnson elucidates the isolation and stasis involved in “taming” a wild place. Johnson artfully constructs a non-linear account of Robert Grainier’s life on the frontier. Through Grainier’s perspective, we witness the rapid transformation of America – from railroad construction to the proliferation of sleek highways; from influenza epidemics to a random encounter with Elvis Presley. Despite the changes going on around him, Grainier remains a lonely outsider, observing the world’s expedited evolution from a distance.
History, particularly popular history, need not be dull, something that Cormac O’Brien demonstrates readily in his book, The Forgotten History of America. Written in a conversational tone and broken into vignettes, old history is made new when written this way. Even so, it’s not the standard stuff taught in schools. It’s about wars and both sides in those wars, reaching back to the country’s colonial beginnings in the 16th century. With personalities writ large on both sides and a good understanding of the differences in modern and historical society, O’Brien leads his readers on journeys back in time:
It begins with the first permanent European settlement in North America:
Pedro Menedez de Aviles anxiously paced the deck of his flagship, San Pelayo. Two days earlier, off the coast of Florida, he had gone ashore and met with Indians who offered valuable information about the prey he was desperately seeking. Now, confident of success, he led his five vessels northward along the coastline, scanning the beaches for any sign of European settlement. The day was September 4, 1565, and Menendez was hunting heretics.
Bitterblue takes place eight years after the end of Kristin Cashore’s earlier novel, Graceling. At the end of that book, ten-year-old Princess Bitterblue became Queen of Monsea upon the death of her father, the vicious psychopath, King Leck. Bitterblue is still trying to help her country recover from the trauma of her father’s 35-year reign of terror. Leck held the kingdom in thrall by controlling people’s thoughts, changing their memories so they always believed he was a kind and caring ruler while he really terrorized the citizens. Because of her youth, Bitterblue has relied heavily on her advisors who promote what they call a forward-thinking agenda. They urge her to pardon everyone for any crimes committed during Leck’s reign and encourage everyone to simply forget that anything bad happened.