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review 2018-10-12 05:02
Halloween Is Murder
Halloween is Murder - Josh Lanyon

Another half-baked short story by JL. Sometimes her short stories are really beautiful, spectacular displays of prose. But most of the time they're this: not fully-formed, more of an outline than a story, with characters you barely have time to get to know before the story is over. Add on the paranormal elements of actual real vampires and vampire hunters  and this just becomes a head-scratcher. There is also zero romance here. A hint of a love story, but that's it. The action is non-existent too, despite this being about vampires and vampire hunters. And there's a really big issue left unresolved at the end too.

Barry seriously didn't think it necessary to tell his client that her brother is out for her fortune? Um...he'll probably try to kill her next. Geez.

(spoiler show)

 

I was also really thrown by the fact this takes place in the world of Adrien English (and therefore Holmes & Moriarity, All's Fair, Art of Murder and just about every other series she's done her little crossover/tie-ins with). Um...what? That makes no sense. And just makes The Hell You Say look like a missed opportunity. Not the best tie-in she's come up with, in my opinion.

 

Still, it's JL, so the writing is still good and has a mild, throwback sort of humor (this is based in the 50s/60s) one expects from a Lanyon story. Just wish it had been longer, like the world and characters really deserved. 

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review 2018-07-19 09:18
The Change Chronicles- Paula Friedman

      This book is dripping with realism, with historic realities, stuffed full of the issues of the then still young baby-boomer generation. We are immersed, near drowning, in the real issues of a student body that feared the bomb: but feared man’s inhumanity to man far more. We are with the issues of the post-war generation that had to make stark individual choices between defying the generally respected government apparatus of their parents and grandparents, by radically opposing neo-colonial war, or joining the ranks of those that might have to kill as soldiers, or certainly by proxy, those fighting for their homes and their innocent children in distant lands.

      As the body-bags and damaged young men, returned from the war in ever greater numbers a social divide split Berkeley, this read’s setting, then West-Coast America, and eventually the ‘free world’. Additionally, the boomer generation were deep in the already progressing struggle against racism and, as the ‘60s progressed, the drive towards sexual equality was gaining a long-dormant momentum. A tsunami of social consciousness grew out of the student Free Speech Movement, the roots of the 60s Counterculture, and swelled out so far and so deep that even today we feel its dissipated pull. Culture has seen fundamental change, despite recent pressures to reset the clocks of history from many right of centre and ‘religious’ groups.

      Nora is at the centre of the social struggle, a child of the ‘50s, a daughter of parent’s born in the ‘20s and ‘30s. The older generation that had suffered the deprivations and often the full horrors of world war and who now struggled to understand the anti-establishmentarianism of so many of their kids. In 1966, the parental generation was as psychologically distant from the lives of their children as any times have seen. But quite naturally, establishment structure and deeply ingrained cultural expectations, hung heavy shadows over even the most progressive. No generation can reject all the expectations of their upbringing. Nora, like those around her, was struggling with her personal place in the world as much as with grand designs. This is so vividly drawn in this story as the young unmarried mother feels little choice but to give up her new-born child. This is a chronicle of change for one women in a social fabric that was constantly melting and reforming around her.

      Friedman’s brilliant writing lets us see how the new sexual permissiveness of late ‘60s youth is overshadowed by old moralities. For example, we see how many men were all-too-ready to enjoy new sexual freedoms but without accepting the fullness of accrued responsibility. We see the young women, who are equally driven by new social permissiveness, but are so often left abandoned to face single parenthood, still then illegal abortion, or cruel adoption. The pill, though a birth control reality from 1960 onwards, was still years away from available to all but a few women; or in many territories and especially among their many religious and cultural groups, any women whatsoever. The 1960s were more about changed expectations than the progress that decade unleashed, just as previous history had paved the groundwork for racial equality, and the ‘70s would soon for the rainbow of sexuality.

      Friedman draws us through every significant thought and fear, not just of the principle character, Nora, but her whole generation of educated, informed, and variably enlightened young activists. She represents a post-war generation that was desperate to change society, rather than just their own fortunes. As always, change brought mixed and shifting actions and conflicting opinions even between those that held aloft the very same flags. This is a book that in an equal universe should find a place as the ‘lighter’ but equally socially enlightening read, complementing iconic works from Weinberg, Ginsberg and so many well-recognised others. This book should be on the shelves, available to all those that seek insight into the social tapestry behind songs of Dylan, Baez and Lennon and so many more. This book is so much part of the essential history of those in my wide generation that fought with the banner, the guitar and the pen, and with the desperate but sadly naive conviction that the world could be made better for all, not just those blessed by God to have the most money and the most destructive guns. Of course, as in all generations the baby-boomers fill all areas of the political spectrum, though for a time there was promise of us really being something different; a truly progressive generation. So incidentally, it’s feels so sadly poignant that our now senior, empowered generation, is making such a mess of its responsibilities to humanity and this planet. But despite abject failings those that marched can at least find some relief in the social earthquake that is still shaking out new and profound chronicles of hopefully sustainable change, across so much of the Earth. Despite everything, the wind of change that blew from Berkeley in the ‘60s has left an indelible footprint on social history, and Friedman’s book gives us a glimpse into the countercultural foundations of our changing social fabric. I feel so fortified when reading Friedman’s deeply woven commentary on the early determined stands of so many of our post-war generation. This goes some small way towards alleviating the sense of shame brought on so many of us by the actions of the aging boomer leadership, which conspires to reverse so very much of what Friedman and her contemporaries achieved. Sad though many aspects of this book are the overall feel is one of positivity, a banner flown for the progressive spirit.

      This is quality writing that lets one breath in the winds of change that may have lost its acute direction, but whose influence is felt in so many aspects of the world today, including currently in hashtag metoo, in the wider struggles for social justice, human rights and for our basic freedom of speech. We have hopefully passed onto our children enough social conscience to bring down the new savage capitalism and currently growing fascist tendencies. This is a book about some of the ordinary voices in an extraordinary movement, in the chronicles of change. This read is an intimate look behind the placards and politics of a generation that once dared to march, not for themselves, but for a better world.

AMAZON LINK

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review 2018-06-13 04:06
Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) (Audiobook)
Drums of Autumn - Geraldine James,Diana Gabaldon

As I mentioned in my review for Outlander, I started this series with the fourth book by accident. I was just out of high school, my mom was having health issues and I was the one who was driving her around to her various appointments and spending a lot of time in waiting rooms. So when I saw this book sitting on the new releases shelf in the bookstore, the only thing I cared about what that it looked interesting and it was thick. It would give me hours and hours and hours of reading time. So I got it, started reading, and got to around a quarter of the way through when I realized this was part of an ongoing series. I kept reading though and enjoyed it. It provided exactly what I needed at the time and even got me to go back and read the first three books.

 

Now, twenty plus years later ... this got annoying. It starts off really slow and rambling. All the books in this series ramble, but it gets worse the longer the series goes on. The first three books at least have obvious plots right off the bat. This one takes over 500 pages to get around to it's main conflict, and up till then it's basically just the four main characters doing stuff. I still really enjoy Claire and Jamie's relationship, but I couldn't give two figs about Briana and Roger's courtship, especially when Roger gets all caveman about it. 

 

I was never a fan of Briana, but wow. For someone so smart, she can be really stupid. Roger's kind of a jerk but he's tolerable. Neither one is prepared for 18th century living, despite both of them being history majors. They not only lie to each other about crucial things, but they make one reckless decision after another. How in the world they survived is beyond me. 

 

Actually, the main conflict isn't exactly what I would call contrived. Considering what Bree's been through and that she just barely met her father, her decisions make sense, even if they're illogical. Given what Lizzy thinks she knows, and what she tells Ian and Jamie, their actions also make sense. What doesn't make sense is

Claire not telling Jamie what Briana told her. She could've done that and kept Bonnet's name out of it.

Also, if you're looking for someone, a physical description usually helps.

Also, both Claire and Briana went by different last names when they went through the stones, so it makes zero sense they wouldn't consider Roger doing the same.

Also, Jamie would've killed Roger based on the info Lizzy told him. But of course he couldn't because the reader - and Bree - wouldn't be able to forgive him if he had.

(spoiler show)

The Big Misunderstanding required these characters who are usually extremely good with communication to be really bad at it.  

 

And it's just a little ridiculous that these characters are all encountering the same villain no matter where they are in the world. 

 

But once I got through all that nonsense and the characters all started to act like their intelligent, rational selves again, it got way better. The last third of the book is definitely the strongest.

 

Not enough Lord John though. 

I hate that he sleeps with one of the slaves. It's not on page, but it's implied. I guess I can have a smidgeon of consolation that John wouldn't have forced himself on anyone unwilling, and he's a pretty perceptive fellow, so he could probably tell if someone was just pretending to be willing. But still. Don't sleep with slaves, John.

(spoiler show)

 

Edit: Oh, and I forgot to mention the narration. Davina Porter does her usual stellar job, but she doesn't even attempt an American accent for Briana. I guess she's the UK's answer to Kevin Costner. ;) But since I'd rather listen to a pleasant British accent than a terrible American (much less Bostonian) one, I wasn't bothered by it too much.

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review 2018-03-03 21:32
A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet #1)
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle

This is very Young Wizards-lite. It's a fun story and certainly very imaginative, but I couldn't help but wonder how much more awesome it'd be in the hands of Diane Duane. It's not very fair of me, I know. These books are aimed at grade schoolers, while Young Wizards books are young adult and delve deeper into their themes. A Wrinkle in Time is a very quick read, jumping from action to action with very little explanation of how or why anything works the way it does. The plot is very straightforward and other than first few chapters that set up the characters and the world, there's very little deviation from the plot once the kids are whisked away on their adventure. At one point, I started to wonder if this was going to end up being a cliffhanger, though that didn't feel right. It might have been 30 years since I read this in grade school, but I think I would have remembered feeling cheated it this didn't have a proper ending. Unfortunately, that means the resolution is extremely quick and rather simplified.

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review 2017-10-08 14:11
Four stories of the man as a young artist. For lovers of experimental literary fiction and New York.
4 3 2 1 - Paul Auster

Thanks to NetGalley and to Faber & Faber for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

I’ve been following with interest the Man-Booker Prize this year and realised I had quite a few of the books on my list to be read and decided to try and read in a timely manner and see how my opinion compared to that of the judges. When the shortlist was announced, only one of the books I had read so far had made it, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, a book I really enjoyed. And then I got the chance to read 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster, another one of the novels shortlisted, and I could not resist.

I had read a novel by Paul Auster years back, The Book of Illusions and although I remember I enjoyed it, I had never read another one of his books until now. It wasn’t a conscious decision, and I had always kept in mind that at some point I should pick up another one of his books but that day hadn’t arrived.

I hadn’t read anything about this novel before I started reading it, other than it had been shortlisted for the Man-Booker, and therefore I was a bit surprised and confused, to begin with.

First, as happens with e-books, I had no idea how long it was. It’s around the 900 pages mark. Second, I didn’t realise it was a fairly experimental novel, or, at least its structure was not standard. The novel starts as if it was going to be a family saga, with the story of a Jewish immigrant arriving in New York, and we follow his story and that of his family for a couple of generations until we get to the birth of a boy, Archibald Ferguson. He doesn’t like his first name that much and for the rest of the novel he is referred to as Ferguson. When things start getting weird is when at some point you become aware that you are reading four different versions of his life. These are narrated in the third person, although always from the point of view of the character, and yes, they are numbered.  So the first chapter (or part), you would have 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and then, the next part would be 2.1… and so on. The story (stories) are told chronologically but chopped up into bits. Some of the reviewers have commented that you need to be a member of MENSA to remember and differentiate the various stories, because yes, there are differences (fate seems to play a big part, as sometimes due to incidents that happen to his family, financial difficulties, relationship issues… the story takes a different turn and deviates from the other versions), but these are not huge, and it is difficult to keep in your mind which one of the versions is which one (at times I would have been reading for a while before I could remember how this version was different to the one I had just been reading). Because the differences are not major (yes, in one version he ends up going to a university and in another to a different one, in one he works at a newspaper and in another starts writing books, in one he goes out with a girl and in another they are only friends…), and the characters are pretty much the same in all versions (although sometimes their behaviour is quite different) it makes the stories very similar. Added to that, all versions of the character are also very similar as if the different circumstances were not earth-shattering and had not affected that much the development of his boy (in the debate of nature, nurture, it’s safe to say Auster supports nature). The devil seems to be in the detail, or perhaps the point is that we might strongly believe that there are moments when our decisions could have sent us down one path or a completely different one (Sliding Doors anyone?), but the truth is that of all the infinite possibilities (and that makes me think of a book I read very recently, Do You Realize?) only one is conducive to life as we know it (the Goldilocks theory of life. Neither too hot nor too cold, just right) and our life was meant to be as it if.

Ferguson loves films and is a bit of a film buff (there are lengthy digressions about Laurel & Hardy, the French New Wave, American Films…), he also loves books and writing, and some versions of the story include his translations of French poets, or his own stories (that sometimes end up being exactly the same as the story we are reading, and others are either full stories or fragments of the books he is writing), and sports, mostly baseball, although also basketball.

Towards the end of the book (well, it’s a long book, so let’s say from the time the characters goes to college), we get much more detailed information about politics and historical events in America. There are lengthy descriptions of reactions to the murders of J.F.K, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, race riots, the Black Power Movement, the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement, the Columbia University demonstrations and student political organisations, and also about New York and Paris (more New York than Paris) in the 1960s and early 70s. Although in one of the versions Ferguson is attending Columbia, he is a reporter and even when he is physically there, he narrates the events as an observer rather than as if he was personally involved. His engagement seems to be intellectual above all, no matter what version of Ferguson we read, although the reasons for his attitude might be different.

I don’t want to end up with a review as long as the book itself, and after checking other reviews of the book, I thought I’d share a couple I particularly liked, so you can have a look.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1909935118?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/paul-austers-novel-of-chance

What I thought the book did very well, in all its versions, was to capture the feelings and the thoughts of a teenager and young man (although, as I’m a woman, I might be completely wrong). Although the emphasis is slightly different in each version, that is fairly consistent and rings true. As a writer and film lover, I enjoyed the comments about books and movies, although these could be frustrating to some readers. I also enjoyed the works in progress of the various Fergusons (some more than others) but this could again be annoying to readers who prefer to follow a story and not wander and float in flights of fancy. I agree with some of the comments I’ve read that the latter part of the book is slowed down even more by the endless description of incidents at Columbia that, no matter the version of the story we read, are analytically reported rather than brought to life.

My main problem with the book is that I did not connect that much with the main character. Considering the amount of time readers get to spend with the different versions of Ferguson, we get to know him, but I did not feel for him. Strangely enough, sometimes I felt more connected to some of the other characters in the story (his mother in some versions, some of his friends, a teacher…) than I did to him. I’m not sure if it was because it all felt very artificial, or because none of the versions completely gelled for me. I admired his intellect but did not connect at an emotional level and I did not care for him. I’m aware that readers who know Auster’s oeuvre better have commented on the biographical similarities with his own life, and I’m aware that he has denied it is (or are) his story. There are, for sure, many points of contact. Some readers have compared it to books that have used a somewhat similar format to tell their stories, but as I haven’t read any, I will not comment on that. The ending, metafictional as was to be expected, will probably satisfy more those who enjoy formal literary experiments than those looking for a good story. I do not think many people will find it surprising, but I don’t think that was the author’s goal. The writing is good, sometimes deep and challenging, others more perfunctory. And yes, I still intend to read other Auster’s books in the future.

In sum, a fascinating exercise in writing, that will be of interest primarily to followers of Auster’s career, to those who love experimental literary fiction, particularly those interested also in films, literature, the writing process, sports, and New York. Not a book I’d recommend to those who love dynamic stories with exciting plots, or those who prefer to emotionally engage with characters. Ah, and it requires a reasonable memory and a serious investment of time.

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