Monday, August 13, 2018

Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's TravelsGulliver's Travels: An Account of the Four Voyages into Several Remote Nations of the World by Jonathan Swift, 343 pages

In Swift's classic satire, the adventure-prone naval surgeon Gulliver finds himself repeatedly stranded in strange lands, where he meets the tiny Lilliputians, the giant Brobdingnagians, the ivory tower intellectuals of Laputa, and the superhuman intelligent horses, the Houyhnhnm.  In the process, again and again he is confronted with the inexplicable base depravity of the human race, never more bitingly than in his encounter with the virtuous Houyhnhnm, for whom the men who live alongside them, the disgusting Yahoos, are a byword for foulness and a source of considerable perplexity.

Gulliver's Travels is often treated as a children's story and, apart from the modern dismissive attitude towards fantasy, it is difficult to imagine why.  Swift's contempt for prideful, fallen humanity can only be described as Brobdingnagian.  In the eighteenth century, this was understandably the source of considerable controversy - now, for some reason, it is only commented upon when Swift focuses his ire on the female of the species.

Friday, August 10, 2018

A Memory of Light

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, Audiobook: 42 hours, Book: 909 pages

This is the fourteenth and final book in the Wheel of Time series.

The time for the final battle has come. Rand and half the world convene to determine their plan of attack. He demands that all the rulers agree to peace after the final battle in payment for him fighting the Dark One. It is agreed, with the contingency that he get the Seanchan to agree as well.

Mat has gone to Ebou Dar to check on his wife Tuon and finds out some unsettling information. Later, Rand shows up and enlists the aid of Tuon and the Seanchan.

The final battle is waged on four fronts with Elayne overseeing them. They are fighting for their lives against the forces of the Shadow and creating time for Rand's fight against the Dark One. Both Mat and Perring play a part. Mat directs the army of the Seanchan. Perrin has to enter the world of dreams and try to protect Rand from an assassin.

As Rand is fighting the Dark One, he has several revelations about the nature of world and life. His path becomes clear and he knows what he has to do.

I read this book when it came out. At the time, I wasn't completely satisfied with the final battle but now that I have listened to it I think that all of it was a fitting ending.


Image result for Petronius The SatyriconThe Satyricon by Petronius, translated by WC Firebaugh, 253 pages

One of the first novels, the sprawling Satyricon survives only in fragments, but fortunately these fragments form a more or less continuous text comprising most of books fifteen and sixteen of the original.  The story follows a group of well-educated but impoverished friends and rivals as they make their way through the decadent society of southern Italy during the reign of Nero, falling into and out of adventures ranging from the orgiastic rites of Priapus to the interminable dinner party of the wealthy bore Trimalchio.  At the center of many of these episodes is the beauty of the former gladiator Encolpius' boy lover Giton, a source of desire and therefore conflict for men and women alike.

As aimless as it is obscene, for the modern reader Petronius will recall Hunter S Thompson at his best or Jack Kerouac at his most popular.  It is certainly testament to the truth of Qoheleth's adage that there is nothing new under the sun.

The girl in the green silk gown

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown (Ghost Roads #2) by Seanan McGuire   325 pages

Once and twice and thrice around, 
Put your heart into the ground.
Four and five and six tears shed, 
Give your love unto the dead.
Seven shadows on the wall, 
Eight have come to watch your fall: 
One's for the gargoyle, one's for the grave, 
And the last is for the one you'll never save.

I love these rhymes that Seanan McGuire puts into her stories.

While the first book about Rose Marshall was mostly a bunch of stories tied together, this book is one continuous story. It definitely helps if you have read the first book, though, because this story assumes you have some familiarity with some characters and some of the worldbuilding/lore.  Rose has been 16 ever since Bobby Cross ran her off the road, leaving her to become a hitchhiking ghost. She's the Phantom Prom Date, the Girl in the Green Silk Gown. And she's done a good job of steering clear from Bobby ever since. However, thanks to a crossroads bargain that won't let him die, and a vendetta deep as the ocean, Bobby is out to get Rose and make her pay for eluding him the first time.  When he catches up with her, it's only a matter of time before he kills Rose completely . . . unless she can find a way to outwit him.

Rose is an interesting character and the way that McGuire weaves together ghost lore and stories here, it makes for a good story. There are layers of story, so it's not just a "bad guy trying to find the girl" story, but a story about love, loss, and finding your way back home again (even if that home is in the twilight because you're dead).

The Obsession

The Obsession by Nora Roberts   453 pages

When Naomi Bowes followed her father into the woods one night, she was hoping he was hiding her birthday present. However, what she found in the root cellar changed her life. After freeing the girl trapped there, Naomi revealed the horrible person her father was, forever changing her family's life.

Now, she has grown up and moved on, making her photography into a successful business. When she finds a old house that needs love (and tons of repairs), miles away from her family, she wants to embrace the small town life and immerse herself in solitude.  And of course, because it's Nora Roberts, you know what's coming: but those people in the town are determined to win her over, especially handsome Mr. So-and-So.

Also, because this is Nora Roberts, you know that Naomi's past is going to catch up with her in some way. Um, the title of this book is a hint.   Despite all of this, I enjoyed this book. I admit it: I'm a sucker for the fantasy of "girl leaves past behind and finds a new life for herself in a charming small town."  It also helps that inevitably, money is no issue for said girl.  So, it's sometimes nice to get swept up in a story like this, imagining being a photographer and someone with a huge amount of money to rehab a big house.

Listful Thinking

Listful Thinking: Using Lists to be More Productive, Highly Successful and Less Stressed by Paula Rizzo        Paperback Book:  155 pages              

Loved this book.   I am forever making lists, I call them my secretary.    First thing every morning and often the last thing I do before I leave the office is make a To Do list.   I take a sheet of paper, draw a line down the center and put Work To Dos on the left and Home To Dos on the right.    When I accomplish a task I cross it off.   Paula Rizzo and I agree there is satisfaction in crossing things off your To Do list.  Throughout the day as things pop up in your mind or directives need to be added – the list is right there beside you and can be added to as needed and delightedly things can be checked off, crossed off or whatever your preference is.     Paula adds another thing to her To Do list for the day – she has a section for distraction placeholder.    What a remarkable idea.   So often when we are swamped and trying to keep our thoughts together then someone comes up and interrupts your concentration then once they are gone you have to try and remember just where you left off or what you were planning on doing next or who was it you were getting ready to call when someone comes up with a conversation totally out of left field and you are not only distracted but given how hard you had been at it then the distraction takes you onto a whole other plane of thoughts only to try to get back to the rhythm you had going in your own groove before and sometimes it can take a while to recapture that moment.   How often have we been painstaking working diligently thoughts processing like a machine in our heads painstakingly paying rapt attention to every minute detail of a project you are on deadline to complete and someone comes up discussing everything to the color of the balloons at their child’s birthday party to their latest romantic fiasco to how irate they are over whatever peeved them and you sit there captive to their conversation as they disregard your body language signals and go on and on about their personal stuff when all you want to do is stay at the freakish pace you had finally got going only to feel like dropping through the floor because now that they have gone you can’t seem to get your momentum back on what you needed to.   Make a list.   As magical as the words abracadabra making a list can keep you on track, keep you focused and if something distracts you or one or more of your bosses needs you to drop what you are doing to take care of something for them, you  simply take a glance at your LIST and see o.k. that is what I am doing and with the added Distraction Place Holder – you go right back to where you were, o.k. I need to pick up the report in June and then call so and so to get the statistics I need from their division so I can plug those in, then call the Manager to let them know I am scanning the info and sending it to them prior to their deadline so they can take it to their meeting.   Uh-oh, here comes one of the talkers from the office water cooler gotta run to the mail room quick.    “Sorry, I have to get this out a.s.a.p.”   Lists are your friends.   I even make lists at home – o.k. this is what I need to get done tonight before I go to bed so that I can take that trip tomorrow,  or I need to make a list of folks who have volunteered to help with the neighborhood clean-up or I need to accomplish all of these particular things this weekend so I can go play next weekend over the holiday while a friend is in town.    Lists can help you focus on what you need to pack for a trip,  what you want to do to improve yourself or your home.    Things you need to put together to make a presentation, things you will need for your wedding, people you want to invite to a fundraiser you are helping to arrange, or list all the addresses you want to check out and make a list of amenities you are looking for in a new apartment, home, roommate and it is always a great idea to make a list of things you want to go over with your doctor when going in for an office visit.     If you make a list before hand when calling a relative you won’t forget all those tidbits you wanted to talk about and you won’t hang up then realize you forgot something you really wanted to tell them.   LISTs people – they are wonderful!   Paula Rizzo moves between handwritten lists which she dearly loves to digital lists which can open so many more opportunities for the list maker.    There are websites that will compile your lists for you, and she highly recommends websites that you can delegate work, tasks, errands, shopping, etc. to.   All can be found in this book.    She talks about how hard it was for her to start making digital lists, but, now she is addicted to digital listing.   A REALLY GOOD BOOK with so much helptful information included you will be so glad you read it.   10 out of 10 stars for this one.   Well done, Paula Rizzo.   Oh yes, she has a website with cool free lists templates for you.    Like getting a prize inside the book.   Love it!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Masterpiece

 The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis   368 pages
I’m in love! I have added a new writer to my list of those whom I’ll read everything they write! I have wanted to read Fiona Davis’ first two books, “The Address” and “The Dollhouse,’ but somehow they never quite reached the top of my TBR list before there was a wait list at the library. It was this latest novel that made me determined to read it; something about the cover clicked in my heart, and I couldn’t let it go. Thanks to NetGallery and Penguin Random House I got my hands on a first edition, which I devoured in three evenings.
The story’s structure is one of my favorites, dualing timelines. The story vacillates between 1928/30 and 1974/6. I think I know why Davis chose the mid-1970s to place the second part of the story, but I won’t tell. No spoilers here!

In 1928, Clara Darden is an artist, an illustrator, working as a teacher at the Grand Central School of Art. She is also a freelance illustrator. Her students are dropping out at an alarming rate, and she fears not being asked back next semester. Part of the reason is that she is a woman, the only one among the remaining manly faculty. A number of the faculty becomes prominent artists, but not Clara, well not really

Fast forward to 1974. Virginia Clay is a newly divorced woman, still somewhat stuck in her 1950s role as housewife and mother. She is applying for a job, which takes her to the rundown facility that is an eyesore, Grand Central Station. It’s dirty, infested with drug addicts, and has almost been deserted. The terminal’s owners have their office under the buildings eaves. After blowing her interview, she asks for the restroom key and heads down the hallway. Instead of the facilities, she finds herself in the abandoned art school. Pictures still hang from the walls, and although the place is covered in dust, it looks as if the students had just been yesterday. As luck would have it, Virginia is offered a job in the Information Booth, with a cast of odd characters. This gives her a chance to further explore the old art school, but is stunned to discover that someone else is also haunting the area. Then, Virginia finds a painting that could set the art world on its ear. A painting that someone is willing to kill to own.

I loved the juxtaposition of the art/art school and the architecture of Grand Central as masterpieces. Both Clara and Virginia are well drawn (no pun intended) and fascinating women, both with a stubborn streak that just begins to make itself known. I can’t wait to meet Davis when she comes to St. Louis on her book tour.

 “The Masterpiece,” receives 6 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Evolution of Desire

Evolution of DesireEvolution of Desire: A Life of Rene Girard by Cynthia L Haven, 279 pages

More than a biography, Evolution of Desire is Cynthia Haven's argument that Rene Girard deserves to be regarded as one of the most original and powerful intellectual figures of the twentieth century.  In her account of the development of his signature ideas concerning mimetic desire and the scapegoating mechanism, she demonstrates that these theories - despite what he himself might sometimes have implied - arose from personal experience as well as literary, anthropological, and philosophical investigations.  In turn, she exhibits how these ideas were not purely intellectual concepts, but shaped Girard's own life and behavior - most mysteriously, the religious conversion that accompanied and enriched them.

The story she tells is, however, one without great drama.  One of the points of interest is its portrait of a distinctly French intellectual who spent his entire academic career in American universities, and its exploration of Girard's role (for better or worse) in popularizing French critical theories in the US, but this also insulated Girard from the hottest debates surrounding his work, which took place in his native land.  Compensating for this somewhat, the book is also deeply personal - Haven repeatedly reminds us that Girard never understood mimesis as a purely negative mechanism, and it is clear that her friendship with him shaped her own life in ways both obvious and subtle.