Sunday, September 30, 2012

Books I Read This Month - September 2012

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

After a ballooning accident, a delusional young man, Jed Parry, begins stalking scientist Joe Rose, believing Joe is sending him secret signals that he is in love with him. Jed, who never threatens Joe or Joe's wife with violence but instead attempts to convince him to believe in God. Harming Joe and Clarissa's marriage, the stalker begins to drive Joe crazy. At many points in the novel, even the reader begins to question Joe's sanity. This is a beautifully written psychological novel.

In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien

An psychological novel, in which John Wade, Vietnam war veteran and amateur magician takes his wife on a vacation to Lake of the Woods but wakes up one morning to discover her and the boat missing. Because of John's intense PTSD, hallucinations, and childhood abuse,many people in the town believe he is responsible for his wife's disappearance. In the Lake of the Woods is a fascinating look into reality versus fantasy and the consequences of war and abuse.  

The Infinite Tides by Christian Kiefer

After his teenage daughter's death, astronaut Keith Corcoran returns to earth from the space station, only to find his suburban home empty but the bed and sofa. Like an alien in the city, Keith spends much of his time reading the newspaper at the local Starbucks in order to avoid the empty house, his wife's divorce settlement, and the work required to put the house up for sale. Soon he meets his neighbors: a desperate housewife with a young daughter and a family of Ukrainian immigrants. His unlikely friendships in this atmospheric town teach Keith how to move forward in his life, how to face his daughter's death, and how to live in the moment, because you never know which moment could be your last.



BOOKS I REVIEWED THIS MONTH






Friday, September 28, 2012

Wright for America by Robin Lamont



In his extremely right-wing radio show, Pryor Wright—whose only purpose is fame and fortune, regardless of the harm he causes—inadvertently encourages conservatives to express their anger at the liberals through violence, landing Maren Garrity’s twin brother in the hospital. Maren, a member of an acting troupe, believes Pryor Wright is solely responsible for this crime, and she wants revenge. Using her acting skills, she poses as a law school student and acquires an internship on “Wright for America,” Wright’s radio show, hoping to dig up some dirt on the man who repulses her so. Though she must falsify her identity and declare opposing political beliefs to those she actually holds, Maren feels no shame, keeping the image of her brother bedridden in the hospital seared in her mind.

Meanwhile, Maren has taken on another criminal acting role as a counterfeit purse merchant. The police begin spying on her when they discover a weapons dealing ring, controlled by those who Maren believes are supplying her with the counterfeit goods. Soon her identity as Katherine Star, conservative intern to Pryor Wright, is sought after in the police investigation, and her fellow thespians’ doubt grows as the risks pile up.

Though Maren is obviously the protagonist of Wright for America, her relentless seeking of revenge and compromising of her morals make her mirror her enemy, Wright, increasingly as the story progresses. Even at the conclusion of novel, when Maren exacts her revenge by framing Wright for attempted murder, the reader may be left feeling as though Maren herself deserves a punishment somehow, as well as pitying Pryor Wright. Lamont’s intention in this novel was to reveal the power of words and the dangers of ambition, and she certainly accomplishes this; however, Maren often remarks, “It’s not right,” when warned that Wright has “the First Amendment in his corner,” and she asks angrily, “What gives him the right to sit there behind his microphone, up on his throne, hurling slurs and making false accusations?” During this particular rant to her friends, Maren is riled up, practically raging, which conveys her as a hypocrite in the sense that she is allowing Wright’s words, which influence radical conservatives to commit acts of violence, to influence her into seeking a violent end to Wright’s career.

Maren is more of an antihero than a protagonist, but unfortunately her own hamartia is not addressed, leaving the reader perhaps a bit frustrated with her—and American society—at the conclusion of the story. Though immensely frustrating, this characteristic is the notable defining trait of its genre: political satire. It’s a sly sort of satire, mocking ultra-liberals for inadvertently reflecting their opposition’s methods of expressing their anger. While Pryor Wright blames Mexicans, homosexuals, and, of course, liberals, for everything wrong in the country, Maren blames Wright for the problems with American society; one can often forget that this book is a satire, getting caught up in Maren’s hypocrisy.

The reader’s growing irritation switches to loathing when fellow actor Mas admits to her he has always had a crush on him, she turns him down and almost immediately accepts the offer for a date from the policeman who accidentally fell in love with her while following her during the investigation. In fact, he admits to his partner that he “fell in love with Katherine Star,” Maren’s conservative alter-ego, rather than the liberal, “real” Maren. This irony accentuates Maren’s flaws, as well as the problems American politics faces today.

Perhaps because of Maren’s hypocritical flaws and lack of redemption aside, Wright for America is excellently crafted. Each seemingly insignificant detail is in fact as necessary to the overall satirical effect of the novel as the larger moving pieces are. Lamont’s prose paints a clear, strong, and accurate picture of contemporary American issues with cynical humor. Obstinate and justice-focused, the family and business dynamics presented here are distinctly American. This timely novel is sure to provoke meaningful political debate, especially concerning the right to free speech and the trustworthiness and competence of criminal justice. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Peace Blogfest 2012

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Happy International Day of Peace everyone!

Those participating in the Peace Blogfest include:
Ravena Guron
Mira

For the Peace Day Blogfest, I prompted participants with the question what does peace mean to you? I had many reasons for asking this question: I was curious as to what the different perspectives are; I believe we should hear every possible side of an argument in order to come to a conclusion about how to proceed; and I wanted a more individualistic approach to the blogfest, encouraging participants to express their deep opinions with logic and a personal touch. But mainly, I asked this question because of my own answer to the question.

To me, peace means respect, support, empathy, forgiveness of, and nonviolence toward all people, regardless of their race, religion, socioeconomic status, or any other factor that differentiates one individual or group from another.

When the subject of peace comes up in conversation, most people immediately think it is a global or political issue, something left up to the government to regulate. I disagree with this idea. There is more to “peace” than “world peace.” While world peace is the end goal, the main objective, it is impossible unless countries can find peace within their borders; unless communities can find peace between their groups; unless families can find peace in domestic arguments; and most significantly, unless individual people can find peace within themselves.

I believe that the root of all unrest in the world is anger. Obviously it can manifest itself in numerous forms: anger at not getting what you want, not getting your way, wanting more than you have, others disagreeing with you, and much more—some people just wake up angry for no reason at all. Also, mob mentality and the search for belongingness can exacerbate anger (though it can also exacerbate peace, but more on that later).This anger, which is most often sparked by circumstances beyond the angry person’s control, can lead to violence, be it physical or verbal. Because a person is angered by external forces (other people’s behavior, bad luck, or “the system,” for example), they may feel out of control of the situation and may act out of frustration. An angry individual is overcome by their emotion: they become egocentric, putting their own selfish interests above anyone else’s, which may lead them to dominate over others to make them feel good about themselves or, conversely, lead them to feel guilty for their actions and therefore angry at themselves—but the result is that they are still angry and nothing is resolved.

An angry person is a single-minded person, unable to see the other side of the story. They believe their view is the right view. But as Friedrich Nietzsche said, “There is no truth; there is only perspective.” Instead of letting our anger control us, we must learn to control our anger and shift our perspective from the negative to the positive. Even neutral is a good start. If you approach a stressful situation with acceptance instead of frustration, you will react with peace and nonviolence. When you see violence in the world, do not respond with violence; even when you witness an act of violence but are afraid to confront the angry individual, do not see your fear as a failure, but see your own nonviolence as social progress. When you are at peace with yourself, your actions will reflect your outlook, and others will learn from your example.

“There is no truth; there is only perspective.” This is whyI read. This is why I enjoy absorbing knowledge from other cultures. This is why I’m asking: what does peace mean to you?

Instead of segregating humanity into what makes us different, we should embrace our differences and focus on the aspects that unite us. On a global scale, this appears daunting, but as the hundreds of determined individuals in our world’s history have proven, we have the capability to change the world by being the change we wish to see in it; by acknowledging our anger and letting it go; by forgiving those who anger us or partake in activities we deem unrighteous (they have their own perspective and may see their actions as just!); and by exploring our capacity to love unconditionally our fellow earth-inhabitants despite the torments that surround us each day.

Peace, Aimee

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tomorrow Is Peace Day!

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Tomorrow is the International Day of Peace and the Peace Day Blogfest!

You can still sign up by clicking on the badge above.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Users of the Mind by S.M. Kois



This mysterious, speculative novel focuses on Julian, a young man who attends a school where a figure called Teacher coaches students on how to read untrained people’s behavior and to influence them using mind tricks and a control over body language and personae. These gifted and highly disciplined students can then utilize their skills to control others. Teacher approaches Julian when one of the world’s most famous scientists comes out of a four-year hiding, and he tells him that throughout his life he has been trained specifically for the purpose of destroying this scientist, Michael Graven. Michael suffered a burn on his face from a fire as a child and wears a mask to hide the horrendous scars, but when Julian meets Michael, he realizes that he is hiding much more than his face.

Set in a future where evolutionary biology, cancer research, and organ transplants have advanced quite far ahead of their present standing, Users of the Mind intertwines cutting-edge science with strongly passionate characters, resulting in a captivating and unique experience. The narrative is intense yet simple, bringing to mind the voice of a sensei or other martial arts instructor. This voice can occasionally come off as a bit cryptic, which results in a portrayal of an often archetypal Teacher, whose lessons and mantras can sometimes be cliché. Michael and Julian assume some cliché characteristics as well, Michael resembling Two-Face from Batman or similar psychopathic/genius characters from comics, and Julian possessing a charming naivety that automatically stages him as the novel’s hero. The setting of the novel—a school with “chosen” students, an enormous mansion where the scientist resides, and a mysterious island where the scientist performs experiments—is also stereotypical. On only one instance did a plot hole make itself evident: sword-fighting a few weeks after a major heart surgery. However, the time frame of the story is vague, leaving readers to allow this incident to pass without too much skepticism.

While the three archetypal characters create a straight-forward plot arc that leaves the reader to feel as though they know what is coming next—and not surprised when what they think will happen does—there are numerous aspects of the book that make it a worthwhile read. In fact, the scientific and mental ingredients mixed together in this novel make it a must-read for mystery, psychological, and medical thriller fans. Kois’s grasp of language is quite magnificent, with beautiful descriptions that capture the setting perfectly. Her skillful and patient writing perfectly evokes the message she set out to convey. 

Thematically, there are plenty of shining gems in this book, like, “I have isolated my anger. It is nothing but an emotion. A pointless physiological reaction to an external event. It will be of no use for me to let it influence me. It will not help me to achieve my goals.” This example of the control the characters are able to assert over themselves is just one of the great techniques that allows for passion—which leads to immense obsession—to develop in these characters, leaking into the reader’s mind and making for a heart-pounding read.

Though on the surface some people may regard the obvious archetypes as an unavoidable downfall, this unfortunate distraction is balanced by the equally weighty revelation of thought-provoking topics, conveyed through Kois’s excellent utilization of her literary skills. Exploring the strength of genetic ties, the power of love and secrecy, the destructiveness of single-minded ambition and obsession, and even the significance of death, Users of the Mind is a magnificent work of science fiction that mirrors great superhero comics and medical thrillers. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chocolate Blogfest!


I am a chocoholic in the truest sense of the word. I find it difficult to go one day without chocolate. However, I am also practical about my addiction, if that is possible. I put a chocolate Carnation Instant Breakfast into my coffee every morning. Delicious, creamy, chocolatey, plus with your recommended daily vitamins! I highly suggest my fellow chocoholics try it. This may or may not satisfy my chocolate craving for the day, depending on my mood. I will also eat a chocolate protein bar after a run to keep fit, which helps a bit.

But at the end of the day, if I still need some chocolate, I will grab a handful of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips. The darker the better! 72% is my favorite, no matter the brand.

I have perfected my brownie recipe, and I have tried numerous truffle recipes, my favorite being the dark chocolate whiskey truffle. Yum!

What's your chocolate?

Peace, Aimee (click the 'peace' link to view my own blogfest, which I am hosting on September 21st)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Chasing Sylvia Beach by Cynthia Morris



When 23-year-old book store clerk Lily Heller gets off the airplane in Paris, she expects to arrive in the present day, but to her great surprise and puzzlement, she arrives in a pre-WWII 1937 Paris that’s much different from the city she knew in her study-abroad days. With no money and no clue how or why she got there, Lily attempts to find solace in the book store of her personal hero, expatriate Sylvia Beach. She begins to think she’ll never make it back to her life in 2010, but after befriending compassionate Frenchman Paul, flirty Nazi Heinrich, and mysterious old woman Louise, her fondness for, as well as her utter confusion and anxiety about, her circumstance grows. But Louise soon reveals to her that she has been chosen for a special mission: to steal an historic book from Sylvia Beach’s collection to keep it out of the Nazi’s hands. The fate of the world lays in Lily’s decision.

Time travel and literary illusions are two of my greatest weaknesses in fiction, and Chasing Sylvia Beach definitely satiated my hunger for an absorbing novel involving both. While it is a page-turner, one step up from an escapist vacation read, the complexities of the plot tie together cleverly in the end; it winds its way like a mystery, with a subtle romantic feel. The sepia tones in the cover design set the atmosphere for what’s inside somehow—it’s a novel that’s both historic and contemporary at the same time.

Though the story is told in third person, it’s easy to start feeling as though Lily is telling it in first person. Her character pulses with life, and although she is often mainstream and also intimidated by the prospect of success, her role models are great feminist figures and literary heroes. She forms a sort of friendship with Sylvia Beach, founder of the Shakespeare & Company bookstore, which leads her to begin to affirm her worth as both a woman and a writer; her identity at the age of 23 had not quite yet taken shape. In the decisions she must make—from pawning off her grandmother’s ring for money to getting closer to Paul while she is dating another man back in 2010—are rife with tough moral issues from which she must learn to let go. By the end of the story, she is confident in her abilities as a writer, though this may be less because of her encouragement from Sylvia and Paul and more because of her new found role in the gang of time-travelling bibliomaniacs.

Any daydreamer like Lily will surely gobble this story right up. It is not only a work of encouragement for young women but it also explores the supernatural forces at work in the act of reading and writing. The premise is intriguing, and the mystery continues to cling to the reader even after finishing the book: the prospect of the time-travellers carrying on for more adventures tickles the imagination. Cynthia Morris has crafted a spellbinding mystery/fantasy with Chasing Syvlia Beach. I sincerely hope a sequel is in the works.