Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Incarceron

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher     458 pages

Dystopian flair with a hint of steam-punk carries this young adult novel through a hidden prison. From the perspective of a young man who was born in the prison to a young woman who was born to the ward of the prison. The main characters are both struggling with their beliefs regarding the expectations their elders and peers have on them, as well as the mystery of how the prince of the kingdom disappeared and the legend behind the only person known to have escaped the prison. I enjoyed this novel for a few reasons. One was the switching of perspectives between our two main characters. I was able to see their viewpoints clearly and to understand why they had developed into the people they were. Their motivations began to intertwine and led into a great sequel. I was impressed by the descriptions of the prison and the kingdom. It was clearly another way to see two different perspectives. I would recommend this book to anyone from 10 years old to 99 years old.

The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon    Audio Book:  8 Hours    book: 384 pages

What a great day!   Good and bad it all was an amazing day for both Natasha and Daniel.    Two people brought together by a number of signs and odd circumstances to both be in the exact place they were at the same time and who would ever believe two people from extremely diverse backgrounds and life situations could find the answers they needed in one another?    The universe will bring soulmates together no matter how far apart they might begin their journeys.    And happily love never dies.     A poet who speaks of love among the stars and an existentialist who notes that the sun is also a star and far too many poets put far too much emphasis on the moon and the stars.     Who would have thought two people with such different attitudes toward life and love could find compatibility and complete each other.    Opposites attract it’s said, but, these two lovers are not so far apart in their thinking as they would like to believe they are.    I loved the way this book progresses from the mind of one character to the other.   It is such a rich blend.   This is a most excellent story told realistically with joy, sorrow, despair, hope, tragedy and triumph.    Love is an awesome thing that time cannot contain.    Beautifully done.      A modern day Romeo and Juliet.     I think the Bard would definitely approve.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Difficult Women

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay.  260 pages

This book of short stories features a variety of characters, from women who are poor, to those who are wealthy, in good marriages, or difficult marriages, with children, without children - the whole gamut.  In one of the stories, there is a pair of sisters, who have been inseparable ever since they were abducted as children.  In another, a woman who is married to a man with a twin brother pretends not to realize when he and the brother periodically change places.

These are just a few examples of the stories here. I found that some of the stories really stuck with me, while others were forgettable (and one or two were pretty strange).  One of the ones I liked is "North County," about a woman who moves to Upper Michigan for a job and has difficulty leaving her past behind. I also liked the story about the woman married to the man with a twin brother.  Some of the stories are strange, like "I Am a Knife," and "Baby Arm," but the one thing that really ties all of the stories together is that these women all feel very real, even though they are all so different.  And many of them are difficult, in one way or another, even if "difficult" means "hard to like" or "hard to understand."   I had been waiting weeks to get this book from the library, since I have read other books and stories by Roxane Gay and had enjoyed them.  I don't know if I'd want to re-read this entire book of stories again, but I can see revisiting some of the stories at some point.

IA: Initiate

IA: Initiate by John Darryl Winston   218 pages

IA: Initiate is a young adult novel touted to be a supernatural thriller. Taking place in a dystopian America seemingly not far into the future, IA: Initiate is the story of thirteen-year-old “Naz” Anderson. He’s lucky. He and his little sister, Meri, have been fostered by the same parents, but the urban area, the Exclave,  in which they reside seems something out of the Kurt Russell movie, Escape from New York or any of the inner cities of the country’s largest cities.

The setup for the story opens in the past, which is written in present tense. Winston does a good job with this. Then, beginning with Chapter One, the timeframe moves to the present, told in past tense. Interesting concept.

Naz does his best to keep a low profile. It’s rather difficult. His foster parents are awful. He sleepwalks. He hears voices. All that makes a great composite for a character, but that’s the extent of the supernatural powers he has. He tried to stay off the streets if at all possible for fear of the gangs. 

One day he sees some of the gang members while he and Meri are going to school. He manages to dodge them long enough to get Meri to school, but on his way to a different school, there is a confrontation. Luckily, his best and only fried, Ham, is there to help him. Ham gets stabbed, but Naz escapes. It seems as if Naz drops Ham like a hot potato. He never goes to check on him or even worries about him.

I must have missed a lot in my reading. First, I didn’t see any supernatural powers. I read on Amazon that Naz has telekinetic and telepathic abilities.  I don’t recall any, other than the hearing of voices. Then there is the IA. I thought, until I finished the book and read it on Amazon, that IA stood for International Academy. On Amazon, I learn that is one of the Exclave’s most infamous gangs, Incubus Apostles. Third, I’m assuming that the chapters were about Naz andMeri’s biological parents, but I was never sure.


There is a sequel to IA: Initiate. Hopefully, it’s better than this one. IA: Initiate. gets 2 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.

The Clancys of Queens

The Clancys of Queens  by Tara Clancy 256 pages

When I chose this book, I understood I was picking up nonfiction. I like nonfiction when it’s told as a narrative. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I love historical fiction so much. Based on the dust jacket cover, even though “A Memoir” is printed right below the title, I thought I was picking up a biography of the Clancy family from maybe the 1930s through the 1950s. I was surprised to learn the timeframe is late 20th-century into early 21st century. I will admit that I didn’t’ read much past the first sentence of the book’s description. “Fifth-generation New Yorker, third-generation bartender, and first generation author…” sealed the deal for me. What I thought I was getting and what I got was a pleasant surprise, and an excellent read.

We first meet Tara Clancy when she is seven years old. She divides her time between four homes: Her father’s converted boat shed (talk about open-layout), her mother’s dingy apartment and her mother’s boyfriend’s Hampton estate, and that special place in Queens: her grandparents’ home in a geriatric area filled with Brooklyn-born Italians.

Clancy does an excellent job is depicting her family, the area, her friends, and her lifestyle. I won’t say it was addictive reading, but each evening I looked forward to seeing what Clancy was up to next. I was surprised to learn that all of character’s names had not been changed to protect the innocent, but there is nothing horrible about each one. They are who they are, and I found this refreshing.

The person who most rubbed me the wrong way was Clancy’s grandmother. She was rough. A no-nonsense, foul-mouth Italian immigrant, she was a force to be dealt with. That’s one of the things that make The Clancy’s of Queens such a fascinating read. It’s the real story of real people, not some sugar-coated adaptation of the mild mannered immigrant grateful for the opportunities American provided.

Readers get to experience life in a real way, in Clancy’s way, and those real-life stories are often hard to come by. I have several favorite episodes, but the ones that stand out are:
·        Making her rounds through the neighborhood after being dropped off at her grandmother’s. This sounded like fun and reminded me of my dad making his rounds after he retired.
·        Her mother taking her to Los Angeles to introduce her to her sexuality
·        Weekends spent on Mark’s (her mother boyfriend) Hampton estate, where there was croquette, no television, and hours and hours of philosophical discussion between Clancy and Mark.

The Clancys of Queens gets 5 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.


Crisis of Western Education

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51W6W2Q8%2BkL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgThe Crisis of Western Education by Christopher Dawson, 246 pages

According to the esteemed cultural historian Christopher Dawson, Western education in the middle of the twentieth century was in the throes of a crisis of a type that has occurred before - in late Scholasticism, in Alexandria in late antiquity, and in Constantinople near the end of the first millennium, amongst other times and climes.  The difficulty lies in a shift in the academy towards a focus on techniques rather than the handing down of a humanistic tradition, a concentration on the manipulation of things rather than an understanding of things, of cleverness rather than wisdom.  The danger he perceives is the supremacy of the technocrat who (in the words of John Murray) "knows everything... about the organization of all the instruments and techniques of power that are available in the contemporary world - and who, at the same time, understands nothing about the nature of man or about the nature of true civilization."  The cure he prescribes is the introduction of courses of study engaging with the Western tradition, unified as the study of Christendom.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Holding Up the Universe

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven     Audio Book:  9 hours   Book: 400 pages

Teenager, Libby Strout,  had a hard time dealing with her mother’s sudden death from a cerebral hemorrhage.    She began to soothe her anxiety and sorrow by medicating with food.    The utter despair at losing her mother who was also her best friend began an obsessive compulsive reaction within Libby’s psyche and the less she could talk about her feelings, the more she internalized her grief.   Like a pressure cooker, the more she stuffed her feelings down inside her the more she tried to fill that gaping hole in her life with comfort food but still she found no comfort.    As her size grew larger and larger, her father took her to doctors and finally a therapist to try to help her out of the abyss of self-abuse she was in.     Libby tried to put up an, “I’m fine,” face for her father.   She knew he was dealing with his own grief and she didn’t want to add to his worries.   She never talked about her Mom to her Dad, she never let on she was battling mental demons until finally after her weight ballooned to 650lbs.    One day laying in her bed, because it had become too painful to try to get up, she had an anxiety attack and couldn’t breath.  She thought she was having a heart attack.     Because the paramedics were unable to get her out of her room due to her size, she had to be cut out of her house and lifted down with a crane.    She endured this humiliation and media circus but finally was assigned a case worker who got through to her.    Finally someone who understood her and let her say what she hadn’t been able to say and someone who was open minded enough to go to the park and twirl in a circle with her when she felt the need, because it brought up a happy memory of skirts she and her mother had when she was little and taking dancing lessons.    They would twirl  in circles so that their skirts would billow out around them.    Her social worker understood just how important this was to Libby and joined her every time Libby wanted to twirl.    It became a running joke for them.    Through this support and friendship, Libby was able to get on a diet and exercise regime where she lost over 190lbs.    Feeling great and sassy and fully alive in her skin, she decided to go back to public school.    Her father was not so keen on the idea knowing how cruel life can be and wanting to protect his little girl.    As expected highschool was no piece of cake nor celery for that matter.   She was hassled by boys pranking her with a “Fat Girl Rodeo,” where the guy who could grab her and hold on the longest won.    The girls were no better, talking about how disgusting her weight was, etc.   The good news was Libby had a power base now.    She was sure enough of herself and comfortable enough with who she was whether other people accepted her or not that she did not let anyone stop her nor did she let their hateful remarks nor notes stuffed into her locker (so many they avalanched one day when she opened her locker door) hold her back from anything she wanted to do, not that it didn’t hurt, but, she felt like after the humiliation of the media dubbing her the world’s fattest teen, if she could get through that, highschool bullies were not going to stop her from being who she was and she was not going to go hide and be quiet.     Things heat up for her in lots of ways when one of the finest looking cool guys in school begins paying her attention.    And it seems they have more in common than they know, they are each struggling with issues in their lives.    I love Libby Strout, she is fierce like the Tracy Turnblad character in Hairspray!      Good story, good book.  

Friday, January 13, 2017

Perelandra

Perelandra by CS Lewis, 238 pages

In Perelandra, the second book in CS Lewis' Space Trilogy, Elwin Ransom is summoned by the eldils to travel to Perelandra, the world men call Venus, for unknown reasons.  Where Malacandra (Mars) boasted a civilization older than that of Thulcandra (Earth), Perelandra is younger - indeed, intelligent life is just beginning.  Ransom recognizes his purpose after he meets the Lady - the Venusian Eve - and the pair are joined by his old enemy Weston, there to play the role of the Tempter.  Or, at least, to be the host for the true Tempter.

Perelandra is less interesting as science fiction than Out of the Silent Planet.  There are some memorable creations - Venus' floating islands of vegetation primary among them - but the focus is now on the philosophical and religious elements of the story.  Lewis' real triumph is in the character of the Tempter.  There is none of the operatic grandeur of Milton's Satan in the thing possessing Weston, but only petty baseness and senseless - worse, passionless - cruelty.  Its arguments are the arguments its kind have made throughout human history, distilled into a few days of subversion, while the final battle between Ransom and not-Weston is one of the most epic fights in all of literature.