tmoney’s #CBR5 Review #5: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

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I’m not one for reincarnation, but I do believe our lives are connected more than we know. This belief, as well as my interest in dystopian literature led me to read Cloud Atlas. I have yet to see the movie, and I am hesitant to, as I don’t know if would live up to my expectations. However, the book is one that will stay with me for a while, and I highly recommend it.
Cloud Atlas is a novel with six interconnected and nested stories. The first is that of a young family man, Adam, traveling home to San Francisco from New Zealand in the 1860’s. His experience is not a pleasant one, and the depictions of slavery (under the guise of missionary work) are rather disheartening. In the book, his is both the first and the last to be told (as each story is split in two). The second is that of Robert, a young musician, with not a penny to his name, finds employment in Belgium before WWII as a composer’s apprentice. I have to be honest and say that I did not pay much attention to this part of the book, as it was slow, and the narrator’s voice was a bit obnoxious. The third story could have been its own novel, as it was compelling, exciting, and made me want to skip the intervening chapters to get to the resolution. It is about a young magazine reporter, Lydia, who is investigating a crime/coverup in the Southern California area that involves a nuclear reactor and a massive government conspiracy.

 

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tmoney’s #CBR5 Review #4: Live from New York by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller

ImageSeveral months ago on Pajiba, someone wrote about “Saturday Night Live”, mentioning “Live from New York” as a book to read if one was interested in the back story of one of the longest running shows on television. I snapped it up immediately, because as a middle-schooler, it was my life’s ambition to be the female Adam Sandler. “Saturday Night Live” looked like the best job ever, a place where the weirdoes, the unusuals, and the musicians could all hang out and make people laugh. While I appreciate the new cast, particularly the females, the stars from 1993-2000 will always have a special place in my heart. With those thoughts going in, this book was a pleasure to read.

Live from New York is a comprehensive book that catalogs the various experiences from every single (living) member of the casts (except for Eddie Murphy) from the 1975 original cast to the “new” group of 2010. It’s written as a series of memories, like each member sat down and wrote down their memoirs, and that really helped me understand the emotions and thoughts behind their actions. The authors, in fact, sat down with every cast member over several years and combined their stories together. Everyone hates Chevy Chase, the minority cast members were generally ill-used, and being a woman writer in the 70’s was a constant struggle. The seventies was also a period of heavy drinking, excess drug use, and the feeling that SNL’s “Not Ready for Prime-Time Players” were a family.

That family feeling went through many transitions in the years between John Belushi’s death and the most recent incarnation of “Saturday Night Live”, and no one comes off perfect or spotless, except for maybe Gilda Radner, whom everyone adored. It’s a very humanizing view of the troubled, funny people that have made me laugh for twenty years, and did not reduce my love or interest in the show one bit. The book does slow down in the post-2000 years, but I think that’s because the nostalgia for that time period hasn’t had time to be cultivated. It is another lengthy book, but because it is in the form of a written documentary, it is easy to put down and pick up again at another date. It’s full of colorful anecdotes and fascinating details from the people who truly lived LIVE at one point or another.

tmoney’s #CBR5 Review #3: Cover of Night by Linda Howard

To Die For by Linda Howard is one of my favorite books of all time, and I have read many of her novels in the past, so when I happened upon Cover of Night as an audiobook, I was thrilled. The audio is done by both a male and a female narrator, so that was a unique experience, but for the remainder of this review, I’ll be discussing the story.

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Kate Nightingale is the owner and operator of Nightingale’s Bed and Breakfast in Trail Stop, Idaho. She is the widowed mother of twin four-year-olds who left Seattle after her husband died of a staph infection from climbing. Kate and her husband were avid climbers, so Trail Stop seemed a natural spot to restart her life.

One morning, a guest at the Bed and Breakfast escapes out the window of his bedroom, never to be seen again. Kate is mystified, but thinks little of it until two men, both wielding guns, attack her and her friend Nina, a former nun. She gives the men the guest’s belongings, accidently omitting the man’s toiletry kit, while Cal Harris, the handyman, shows his prowess with a gun to get the men to leave the town. For Kate, this new side of Cal is both fascinating and disturbing, as she has always thought of him as a lowly, shy man, and now he is both quick-footed and clever.

The reader is given both sides of the conflict that comes to pass, with the perspective of the two men interspersed with that of Kate and Cal’s adventures. The men, dissatisfied with the contents of the strangers bag, decide to hold the entire town of Trail Stop hostage until they get the flash drive they are looking for. It turns out that both Cal and his friend Creed are former Marines and are more resourceful than anyone expected.

How the conflict is resolved is somewhat unexpected, and the relationship between Cal and Kate is charming, but the descriptions are far too drawn out, the pacing is off, and the resolution is unsatisfying. It’s a good adventure story, but the adventure took too long to begin. While some people in the town are killed, we don’t really care, as they are not given enough information to know anything about them. We also know more about the different flavors of Kate’s muffins than what the town looks like, so it’s hard to visualize the events that occur. As an audiobook, it left quite a bit to be desired, but I’m willing to attempt another Linda Howard book in the future.

tmoney’s #CBR5 Review 2: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffneggger

ImageI have a more difficult time pronouncing the author’s last name than encouraging people to read this book. I was first hesitant, as I was not a fan of The Time Traveler’s Wife, but once I was to 20% of the novel, I was hooked. It’s a ghost story, but not in any way like I have read before.

The story begins and ends with funerals, with the setting predominately at a home that is adjacent to a cemetery, which lends to it’s gothic tendencies. In fact, this novel has a touch of Southern Gothic, if London can be included in the south.

Elspeth has died, leaving her flat to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina, whom she has never met. They are to live in the flat for a year, never letting their parents visit, and are to be looked after by Elspeth’s ex-boyfriend, Robert, who lives in the downstairs flat. Their upstairs neighbor is Martin, a older gentleman with a severe case of OCD, whose wife has left him for Amsterdam after 25 years of marriage.

Elspeth was a twisted, demanding, and manipulative woman during her short lifetime (she died in her 40’s), and slowly, she realizes that she is trapped in the flat as a ghost, with the same temperament. She’s unable to do much of anything for several months, but by the time the twins arrive, she is starting to make her presence known, in both minute and dramatic ways (including breaking the TV). Julia and Valentina are odd characters themselves, as they are an unusual case of twins, with their inner and external appearance being mirrored, to the extent of Valentina’s heart being on the right side. It’s hard to feel anything but contempt for the 21-year-old girls who look perhaps 12-years-old and act unlike any 21-year-olds I’ve ever met.

The twin’s interaction with Robert and the ghost of Elspeth make up the bulk of the book, which is somewhat to the stories’ detriment, as Martin, the man upstairs, is far more interesting. Perhaps this is because I have never read about OCD, but I found his preoccupation with counting and cleanliness fascinating, and I would have read an entire book about Martin and his relationship with his wife, Marijke (still not sure how to pronounce her name). Their love story is touching and real, and I often felt that the chapters about the twins bumbling around the flat and London and Robert’s interaction with Elspeth took away from the heart of the story.

There are several twists to the novel, including one that made me drop my kindle and say “What?” aloud, and the discussion of ghosts and cemeteries is not creepy at all. Many people have a fascination with what happens after death, and this book gives readers a unique taste of what might happen to those who have work yet to do here on this temporary plane of existence.

tmoney’s #CBR5 Review #1: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I’m an avid reader and member of several book clubs, but it took a recommendation from a friend for me to read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I had never heard of the series, but the same friend had told me to read Gone Girl, so I downloaded the book onto my Kindle, not really aware of the length of the darn thing.

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That’s the biggest impression I took away from Outlander-the length. The book is 850 pages, and it would have been a great book, had an editor existed in any way. Much like most movies that are two and a half hours long and should be two hours, this book could have been 600 pages and still told a really unique story.

Outlander is the story of Claire Randall, a British nurse from World War II, who visits Scotland with her husband, Frank Randall, on their second honeymoon after the war in 1945. Her husband is a decent guy, but he’s obsessed with his heritage and doesn’t inspire a lot of passion from either Claire or the reader. Claire and Frank decide to go traipsing about the land and end up in a stone circle. She touches one of the stones and is transported back to 1743.

That is pretty much the only fantasy part of the book, so don’t worry if fantasy really isn’t your thing, this is a romance novel that happens to have a bit of time travel thrown in. Claire is unfortunate enough to meet up with her husband’s ancestor, an awful man, but she is saved by James Fraser (Jaime) who is everything a girl could want in a Scottish Highlander, all broad shoulders and gleaming red hair. However, he happens to be a 23-year-old virgin who is covered in whipping scars and tends to enjoy pain a little too much. Jaime and Claire have a cute sparring relationship that turns into more, until Claire has to decide whether to stay in 1793 or go back to her real life and her husband.

Along the way, there is a witch (or is she?), a castle full of interesting people, disgusting descriptions of illnesses and injuries, and two characters that you grow to care about. However, I will warn you that if you are looking for well-written love scenes, this is not the book for you, as they are plentiful, but not very sexy. There is also a long meditation on God’s love and a prolonged gay-rape scene that is incredibly uncomfortable to read. Both scenes, which are very long indeed, do nothing to help develop characterization or move the plot.

Overall, I don’t plan on reading the rest of the series, not only because they are really long books, but also because I just don’t care anymore what happens to Claire.