The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – A Book Review

A few weeks ago I was looking around for some new books to read and ran across The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  I’ll admit, the title kind of turned me off.  I liked the time travel part, but the wife part made me think that it might be a bit too sappy for my taste.  So, I read some reviews of the book, I read the back cover, and I finally gave in.  What the heck, I love The Time Machine by H.G. Wells and I love Back to the Future; in other words, I love time travel stories.  How bad could this one be?

The answer to that question is-the book is not bad at all.  In fact, I honestly would call it one of the most unpretentious and terribly complicated plots that I have ever read.  Our male lead character, Henry DeTamble, suffers from an extremely rare disease that causes him to bounce around in time whenever stressed.  Nothing can travel with him other than those things that are naturally a part of his body.  You do the math.  Henry has been doing this ever since he was a child, and as an adult he is quite adept at picking locks, hand-to-hand combat, and theft.  He must be good at these things if he wants to survive.  I’d like you to imagine yourself appearing in the middle of a city completely naked on a January night at three in the morning.  Get the idea?  Oh, and Henry’s occupation when he’s not traveling through time-a librarian.

Very quickly into the book we witness the first time that Clare meets Henry.  She is but a young child and he is well into his third decade.  In fact, it is the first time that Clare meets Henry because Henry has been married to an adult Clare for some time now.  Yes, that’s right.  He visits his wife when she is only six years old and then continues to do so until she is eighteen!  It boggles the mind, does it not?  Many philosophical questions spring to mind and I’ll leave it to you to decipher them on you own.

Henry first meets Clare, in turn, when he is twenty-eight and she is twenty.  By that time, Clare had known him for most of her life, but it was the very first time that he had ever seen her.  Well, he nearly instantly falls for her and eventually they get married.  Of course, like most married couples, they begin to attempt conceiving a child.  Imagine a child that inherits a time traveling gene that may activate whenever stressed.  Yes, a whole new premise in the story that bewilders.

Well, of course, I won’t tell you how it ends, and although it seems I’ve told you quite a bit already, I promise that I’ve spoiled nothing.  The book is roughly five hundred pages and it is written in an effective manner in which the perspective regularly shifts from Clare to Henry.  The setting also shifts quite often and Niffenegger is always careful to tell us the date and year of each new shift.  We move all the way from the late sixties to 2053 rather haphazardly.  It gives you quite a mental workout.

I highly recommend this book to both men and women.  Niffenegger has accomplished an enchanting and multifaceted novel with such success that it makes the rest of us writers feel quite inadequate.  Just like real life, Henry and Clare enjoy laughs, tears, births, deaths, pain, joy, terror, and euphoria.  With only one hundred and fifty pages left in the novel, you will not be able to put this book down.  Trust me, I was up until two-thirty in the morning finishing it.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown – A Book Review

Soon I’m going to be taking part in a book study on The Da Vinci Code.  I’ve really had no interest in that particular book other than to see what all the fanfare was about.  So, I figured that if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right.  I picked up the precursor to The Da Vinci Code, called Angels and Demons.

Angels and Demons is certainly fast paced.  If you are looking for a thrilling page-turner, this book is for you.  However, if you’re looking for some deep characterization, might I suggest (insert here)?  Yes, that was sarcasm.  It’s not that I didn’t like the book, because I did.  I just didn’t care about the book, and for me, that is a fundamental difference.  I read it simply to see what happened next, not because I really felt a personal investment for the characters within the story.  In other words, this is what’s called a plot-driven novel.  The characters are there to drive the plot forward.

There were really interesting twists and turns.  There were very cool exotic locations.  There were fascinating scientific and theological lectures.  And the suspense was executed rather masterfully. 

On the other hand, I have absolutely no idea what to believe in this book.  Most of it takes place within the most secret portions of Vatican City.  So, as you can imagine, certainly liberties had to have been taken.  Moreover, Dan Brown gives us a pseudo-history lesson on historical figures that may or may not be true!  I have no idea if Galileo founded a secret society of scientists!  I have no idea if there exists a super-science organization located in Europe!  I have no idea if the Catholic Church is guilty of half of what he writes they are.  Yes, I know the book is fiction, but c’mon, when the guy tells you its all fact before you start reading, it messes with your head!  Curse you, Dan Brown!  I didn’t mean that. 

All in all, this book was fun to read.  I don’t know if I learned anything from it from a moral, creative, or intellectual standpoint, but I did enjoy it.  I’m hoping that The Da Vinci Code is a bit more reliable.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – A Book Review

I’ve got to give it to Dan Brown, he’s discovered a formula that has taken America by storm. I think he happened across it with Angels and Demons. Take a gigantically important figure and make him/her the focus of the novel. Then, couple that with using as many facts as can be possibly found. Finally, use those facts to breed fiction that is logical, plausible, and wildly controversial.

Boom. You’ve got a hit.

I liked The Da Vinci Code, just like I enjoyed Angels and Demons. The book uses real locations and artistic works that engage the reader’s interest and imagination. It has a neck-breaking pace, and each chapter ends on a cliffhanger that demands you continue reading. If you’re reading for pure enjoyment, this book is just the prescription.

However, what I find troubling is due to no fault of the book itself. You see, many people out there are saying that this book had shaken their religious foundation to the core. Shame on those people. Again, The Da Vinci Code takes a wildly popular figure in the world, takes a great deal of fact, throws in quite a bit of fiction, and a hit was born. Sadly, it seems that a great deal of people are having trouble distinguishing between fact and fiction. My strongest advice to those people would be: go do some research. Find the answers you’re seeking by putting in some time and effort. Otherwise, accept this book for the genre it belongs to-fiction.

I can understand people getting up in arms over what’s being said in the book, because we’re all threatened when challenged. I’ll leave it up to you and your research to determine if Dan Brown was challenging anyone in particular, or if he was just trying to write a book that would be a guaranteed hit. What I don’t understand is people reading a work of fiction and saying that it’s completely changed their religious perspective.

So, all in all, if you’re looking for an entertaining read, pick this book up. If you’re looking for facts about religion and/or history, pick up something found in the non-fiction shelves of your local bookstore or library.

The Curious Incident Of the Dog In the Night-Time by Mark Haddon – A Book Review

They say never to judge a book by its cover, but with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, that is exactly what I did.  Sorry, folks, but I simply could not resist the orange cover with the cut out image of an upside-down dog.  I thought to myself, “If that novel is anywhere near as interesting as the cover, I’ll have spent my money well.”  Guess what?  I did.

Simply reading the back cover of this book, I had a fairly good idea of what to expect, or so I thought.  Well, my friends, I was wrong.  Our protagonist, Christopher, according to the back of the book, decides to investigate the murder of a neighborhood dog.  Oh, and he knows every country’s capital in the world and all the prime numbers up to 7, 057.  Oh, and he hates anything involving the color yellow.  Oh, and he can’t tolerate being physically touched.  You would think I would have been smart enough to figure it out.  I wasn’t.  Christopher is autistic.

Suddenly, the book took on a whole new dimension.  I don’t know anything about autism beyond what I learned in Rain Man, and no matter how much I love that movie, I know that Hoffman’s character was only a glimmer into the world of autism.  I was very excited when I found out that the author, Mark Haddon, had worked with autistics quite a bit as a younger man.  I really trusted him to give me an accurate depiction of this world I knew nothing about.

Well, I still don’t know how accurate his depiction was, but I do have to admit that it made for fascinating reading.  While the murder of the neighborhood dog is an interesting concept, it was made even more so by using the unique perspective of Christopher.  You must understand that Christopher doesn’t think the way that we think.  Christopher doesn’t experience emotion the way we experience emotion.  Having said this, however, this book proves that Christopher is not so different from us at all. 

Christopher takes us for a very interesting journey as he deals with real life issues in a manner that we, surprisingly, can relate to quite easily.  Granted, the specifics of how he deals with them are unusual; for instance, I don’t believe that most of us will run through all of the prime numbers we possibly can in order to calm ourselves, nor do I believe that most of us determine what sort of day we will have by the number of red cars we see in the morning.  We all experience fear, loss, and disappointment, however, and those are some of the unifying experiences of being a human being.  I’m really afraid I can’t tell you much more about the book without spoiling virtually everything, but you’ll have to take my word when I say there are some really interesting, and unexpected, developments.

Okay, so let’s talk about style.  When you’re writing from the perspective of a character that is not likely to express emotion in a forthcoming manner, there tends to be a lack of emotional punch.  Instead, the author presents his character in such a fashion that it is quite easy to empathize with his situation, if not with the character himself.  Meaning, we may not understand his thought processes, but we certainly do understand how WE would feel if put in his situation.  We think about how we would react, and then we read how he reacts. 

There are many, many, many digressions as our protagonist stops to delve into all sorts of explanations on math problems, science lessons, as well as present many diagrams aiding in their depiction.  Happily, these are not speed bumps in the story, although it may sound otherwise.  Rather, as already stated, the whole book features the perspective of a boy who is autistic and the book must be true to that perspective at all times.  The fact is-that is the way he thinks!  To expect a tone other than what it being presented in the novel is quite unreasonable.

So, I would recommend that you read this novel.  It is a captivating study in character and style, and also quite informative.  It is atypical in almost every manner, and for me, that’s a great experience.  And seriously, don’t you want to know who murdered the dog?  It’s not who you would expect.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman – A Book Review

I like Neil Gaiman. I really do. I liked Neverwhere, and I loved American Gods, both Gaiman novels.

Stardust, however, is a completely different story. No pun intended.

I can’t believe this book is by the same author that I’ve read in the past. It seems so inadequate compared to his other works. It’s supposed to be in the spirit of fairy tales, but it came up woefully short.

Major issues I have with Stardust include the facts that it wasn’t consistent. I was a fourth of the way through the novel before I even had the main characters figured out. The plot was convoluted and didn’t become apparent until over halfway through. There was no sense of urgency, I didn’t care about anyone in the novel, and furthermore, it took every ounce of strength I had just to finish the dang thing. There are few novels that I had to work at finishing.

So, again, I like Neil Gaiman. I think he’s a brilliant writer, and the other novels I’ve read by him are fantastic. Stardust, in my opinion, simply did not deliver.

On a positive note, however, I will say that the last forty pages were much better than the previous ones.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk – A Book Review

I don’t really know why I picked up the book Fight Club a few weeks ago.  I pretty much knew the major shocker of the story through word of mouth (it’s been out since 1996, after all).  I guess I just wanted to see what all the talk was about.  Gratuitous violence doesn’t do a whole lot for me anymore.  Most people would have thought a book called Fight Club would be the last on my list of books to read.  I’m going to be brutally honest, I figured that if Edward Norton and Brad Pitt were willing to do a film based off the book, the book must be decent.  I was not disappointed.

The book’s style was utterly devoid of any unnecessary components, which, of course, sticks to the majority of the book’s theme.  Very direct narrative, very short and simple dialogue.  The story is told to us through the first person perspective of the main character, but his name is never revealed.  This gives the book a sense of “everyman” that I believe forces, especially, male readers to identify.

Our main character is tired of life, tired of his job, tired of wanting to own things only to have those things own him.  It’s only after he meets Tyler Durden that he experiences life the way he’s always wanted to.  It begins with “Hit me as hard as you can,” and it ends with mayhem and destruction.  We have men drawn to Tyler and his Fight Clubs because they have no sense of worth without their fights.  It is only when they fight that they feel alive, and it is only through Tyler that they feel loved.  Indeed, Tyler gains quite a cult following waiting on his every command, and our narrator is no different.  Of course, the climax is when men start dying and our narrator decides enough is enough.  He steps in to stop the very thing he’d created with Tyler, and that’s when things go downhill.

Although the story seems rather unsophisticated, it is anything but.  It is the underlying message within this book that is fascinating.  We do have an entire generation of men out there (perhaps several) who don’t know how to be men because they’ve had no father figure in their lives.  They think to be a man means to fight and to destroy; they’ve never had someone show them a man doesn’t have to do these things to be “manly.”  We have a whole generation of people who don’t know why they do what they do.  Why do they work?  Why do they buy?  Why do they live?

This story is tragic, funny, and captivating.  I was instantly engrossed with the characters and the plot.  I highly recommend this book if, for no other reason, than to see an author write in an unconventional manner and prove highly successful.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon – A Book Review

It’s a rare thing when you come to the end of a book and you’re actually sorry that it’s almost over.  You find yourself sorrowful that these characters are soon no longer going to be a part of your daily life.

That’s how I felt near the conclusion of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.  I actually finished this book last week, and I can’t find a book to read that I think will even come close to comparing to this title.  It’s that good.

I’ll be honest, I picked this book up to begin with because the pitch on the back said it was about two young men, one of whom had escaped from Nazi-occupied Prague, who created comic books in the late 30’s, the golden-age of comics.  Right there, I was hooked.  When I saw that it had won a Pulitzer Prize on top of it all, I practically ran to the register.

This is one of those books that is impossible to summarize in just a few sentences.  It spans decades worth of the lives of the main characters.  It deals with every conceivable issue these men could have, and it resolves these issues realistically.  This book is about SO much more than just a couple guys who wrote and drew comics.  It’s about hurt, love, fear, pride, creativity, shame, bravery, passion, stupidity, cowardice, and hope.  In other words, it’s about the things we go though while we live.

This sounds so cliché, but if you read one book this year, please, read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel – A Book Review

It’s very hard for me to admit this, but I couldn’t finish this novel.  This is a rare thing for me as a lover of literature and as a writer of fiction.  I always try to learn as much from other authors as I possibly can.  My apologies, Mr. Martel, I’m sure this was a wonderful book for someone interested in its premise, but I was not one of those people.

The book began rather captivating enough.  In fact, I was quite delighted with it and thought I had discovered a gem.  The contemplations upon differing religions and zoos invigorated my thoughts.  However, the book quickly took a turn for the mundane and stayed uneventful for a long number of chapters.  I would have loved to find out the ending of the story, but I can only read about the daily struggles of a boy trapped on a lifeboat for so long.  Keep in mind this is coming from someone who takes pride in sticking novels out to the very end, no matter what.

All in all, if you liked the film Cast Away, you’d probably enjoy this novel.  However, if you found yourself tapping your foot through said film, I’d pass on Life of Pi.

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King – A Book Review

This is a 178-page piece of pulp fiction written by arguably one of the greatest writers in American history.  Say what you will about Stephen King, you must admit he is a master at his craft.  That being said, when I finished this book and read his afterward (always a highlight of his books, in my opinion), he said that most people would either love this book or hate this book, with virtually no one taking the middle ground.

I’m one of those middle grounders.

This book was written for the Hard Case Crime imprint, a publisher dedicated to writing little paperback mystery/crime books that hearken back to the old days.  There was a crime, yes; there were a great many clues to the crime, yes.  However, this book focused more on three characters who happen to be interested in the crime than in the actual crime itself. 

Now, ordinarily, this wouldn’t bother me in a King book at all.  After all, King is a genius when it comes to characterization.  I will always maintain that his Roland of Gilead is one of the most interesting characters created . . . ever.  But, for an imprint called Hard Case Crime, I was expecting more noir and less conversation about the crime.  And those characters he spotlights, while very charismatic, still seemed to be missing something to make them completely dynamic.  The dialogue felt a bit too easy, and the characters a bit too obvious.  I still loved them, nonetheless, but not as much as other King characters.

As always, his setting is expertly rendered, giving you just enough to see the water, smell the air, feel the chilly breeze, taste the fish and chips, and hear the voices.  Less is more, and King has a firm grasp of this notion.

All in all, this was an entertaining read.  Most of you folks could probably finish it in a day or two, and you’ll keep turning page after page.  But, I think King is right, by the end of the book, you will either love it or hate it.  Unless you’re like me, and see little things you both love and hate, appreciating the good and the bad.  After all, few of us could ever entertain the notion of doing better than Stephen King at writing.

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon – A Book Review

I’ve become convinced that Michael Chabon is our greatest contemporary American author at the moment.  It was his outstanding novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay that planted such a seed in my mind, but it is his novel, Wonder Boys, that cements such a notion.

Wonder Boys is about a nearly over the hill author who’s been stuck on his novel of the same name for seven years.  It’s become a behemoth of a novel, with no end in sight.  His marriage is falling apart, just as several of his other’s did, and he is a habitual substance abuser.  To make matters worse, the woman he’s having an affair with, who also happens to be his boss, more or less, at the college he teaches at has just alerted him that she’s pregnant. 

Oh, but there’s so much more to talk about with this novel!  His homosexual editor has come to town, demanding a finish to the epic novel, while an alienated student of his named James Leer has proven that he just may be the next big thing in the world of authors, if he doesn’t kill himself first. 

As heavy as this sounds, this book actually has many, many funny moments. 

This is the magic of Michael Chabon.  When I read his works, I’m not conscience of reading, instead, it’s as though I’m peeking in on people’s lives as they actually unravel.  Chabon is the master of blending plot with characterization, something that is much harder to do than it sounds.

Will our protagonist, Grady Tripp, finish his novel?  Will he mend his marriage while somehow doing the right thing about his pregnant mistress?  Will he ever kick his drug habits?  Will he appease his editor and save both their careers?  Will he nurture the student he doesn’t think much of at first, James Leer, into the next great American author?  Well, there’s only one way to know, so I have to ask you to read the novel.  But, let me ask you this question:  What would the answer be to those questions in real life?