Book Review: Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

She came floating on an island of bananas in a halo of light, as lovely as the Virgin Mary. The rising sun was behind her. Her flaming hair looked stunning.

I cried, “Oh blessed Great Mother, Pondicherry fertility goddess, provider of milk and love, wondrous arms spread of comfort, terror of ticks, picker-up of crying ones, are you to witness this tragedy, too? It’s not right that gentleness meet horror. Better that you had died right away. How bitterly glad I am to see you. You bring joy and pain in equal measure. Joy because you are with me, but pain because it won’t be for long. What do you know about the sea? Nothing. What do I know about the sea? Nothing. Without a driver this bus is lost. Our lives are over. Come aboard if your destination is oblivion—it should be our next stop. We can sit together. You can have the window seat, if you want. But it’s a sad view. Oh, enough of this dissembling. Let me say it plainly: I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you. Not the spiders, please.”

It was Orange Juice—so called because she tended to drool—our prize Borneo orang-utan matriarch, zoo star and mother of two fine boys, surrounded by a mass of black spiders that crawled around her like benevolent worshippers.

from Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Life of Pi is, for the most part, about the extraordinary circumstances of a precocious young Indian boy, Piscine Patel. When traveling by ship from India to his new home in Canada, the ship inexplicably sinks, leaving himself as the only survivor. The only human survivor, that is.

This is also my literary fiction choice for The Eclectic Reader’s Challenge 2012.

The story begins with the author struggling to write a novel when he comes across the inspiring story of Pi. Interspersed throughout the boy’s narrative from the early 70s are glimpses of the present Mr. Patel from the author’s viewpoint, now married and living in Canada.

The Good

Life of Pi, by Yann MartelThe narrative from Piscine’s point of view is engaging from the start, well before his adventures adrift in a lifeboat on the Pacific Ocean. He’s presented as observant, intelligent, and unapologetically idealistic—all traits that serve him well during his coming ordeal. In short, he’s one of the most likable characters I’ve encountered in a long time.

It’s also made apparent that he’s managed to retain much of his idealism, thanks to the briefly-presented encounters between him and the author in the present.

The Bad

I sincerely can’t find anything that I could describe as “bad.” This was a truly delightful read.

The Ugly

I read a Kindle version of the book, which was produced by a mainstream publisher. There were no typos or editorial issues that I can recall. I do have two small nits to pick, however.

First, the edition that I read was touted as being illustrated, yet there were no illustrations to be found. This is, of course, a minor issue that had absolutely no effect on the readability of the novel. I do know, however, that it’s possible to embed graphics in Kindle books, so their absence was disappointing.

The second issue had to do with formatting toward the end of the book. There’s a place where, while recuperating in a hospital in Mexico, Pi is visited by two representatives of the company that owned the sunken ship. They’re Japanese and have had a difficult journey to the hospital, and the ensuing interview is among the most humorous parts of the story. At the beginning of this section, there’s a note by the author that conversation between the two representatives in Japanese would be presented in a different font face—something which is also possible within a Kindle ebook. In this edition, however, there was no change at all. Although it wasn’t too hard to figure out which parts of the dialogue were asides in Japanese, it was a bit distracting.

Both of these issues involve reading the book in the Kindle app on my Android phone, and I was unable to peek at the code in the book to see if these features were actually present but just being rendered incorrectly, so it’s possible that reading on a Kindle device would be more complete experience.

Conclusion

Throughout the novel, Pi’s faith in his ability to survive strengthens, while his faith in who he believes God to be rarely wavers. And it’s clear that those faiths remain with him in the present day. This is definitely a five-star novel.

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NoNaNoWriMo This Year

As much as I enjoy the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge every November, I’ve decided not to participate this year. The reason? The results of the last two years have been two unfinished novels, both of which remain that way.

Thus, this month I will be working to finish the first draft of one of them (The Unseen), then spend December—and maybe January—finishing the second (The Nephilim). With some hard work, both will be upgraded to “second draft” status by next November, and I’ll be ready to begin a third novel.

The goal is to complete the final draft of The Unseen by the end of next year. We shall see….

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Book Review: Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.

from Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, is my entry for the classics category for The 2012 Eclectic Reader Challenge. Although largely classified a tale of horror, the novel is more accurately described as science fiction, and having been published in 1818, is considered by many to be the first example of the genre.

The story is written as the first-person accounts of two characters: that of Dr. Victor Frankenstein himself, along with introductory and concluding narratives from a polar explorer named Robert Walton. All is presented as a group of letters from Walton to his sister, Frankenstein’s narrative having been dictated to him.

The Good

Frankenstein, by Mary ShelleyThere are only a few things in common between this novel and the several film versions I have seen over the years, making this a mostly new experience. One of those things is the main theme of the story: the consequences of man playing God, like a harbinger of scientific possibility gone wrong. Interestingly, for a science fiction novel published nearly 200 years ago, and accounting for the fact that the events in Frankenstein take place in the 1700s, it didn’t feel as if the science was especially rudimentary or obsolete.

In Frankenstein, the theme is quite literal, as the Doctor creates life, even referring to his creation as his “Adam,” and with plenty of allusions to the biblical account of creation in the book of Genesis. Unlike God, however, Dr. Frankenstein shuns his creation and casts it from his presence for the sin of merely existing—more a sin of the creator than the created. Thus rejected, the creature flees and quickly learns that he has no place among humanity, as the people he meets shun him in the same manner as his “father.”

The rest of the novel tells of how Frankenstein’s monster becomes aware of his origin and his place in the world, and eventually attempts to coerce his creator into making a mate for him—an “Eve.” When Dr. Frankenstein refuses to finish the “bride,” his monster begins his revenge.

The novel shows an effective juxtaposition of God and man-as-God, making it apparent why this theme would be used, one way or another, within the science fiction genre even to this day. It also effectively splits the reader’s sympathies between the well-meaning Doctor and his lonely and unloved creation.

The Bad

Frankenstein suffers from the over-description common to novels of the period. However, it wasn’t so overdone as to make me stop reading, the suspense of the tale more than making up for the excessive wordiness.

The only other real problem I found was the lack of distinction between the voices of the narrators; even Frankenstein’s monster, when he finally corners his creator and gives his account, is indistinguishable from the others. This could be explained away, since the monster’s account was being conveyed by Frankenstein to Walton, and the whole thing recorded by Walton in letters to his sister. Still, it felt less than ideal.

The Ugly

I have lately been doing most of my reading via e-books on my Android phone, and although I usually read Amazon Kindle versions, I have several apps for accessing a wide variety of formats. Since Frankenstein is in the public domain, I decided to read the novel with my Google Play Books app to see how the features stacked up with the Kindle and Nook apps.

Statements were added to the text explaining that the book was scanned from a print copy, with optical character recognition (OCR) software providing the conversion from print to text. I’m pretty certain that the actual printed copy of the book was good since the novel has been around for nearly 200 years and has passed the eyes of many editors. That said, I can guess that the OCR’d text was only cursorily edited at best.

Punctuation issues were fairly common, as were words haphazardly split in two—stuff I’ve seen before when using this type of software myself. I can only assume that more contemporary novels (those not requiring the use of OCR) wouldn’t suffer from the same issues.

With all of this in mind, I can’t see letting the production quality affect the overall rating of the novel, since it’s likely that other formats wouldn’t suffer from the same issues.

Conclusion

Even more so than Dracula, I felt as if I were reading something brand new—thanks to Hollywood for straying as far as it did from the source. Although I didn’t love Ms. Shelley’s writing style, the story was a good one, and I’m happy I took the time to read this classic of science fiction. Three stars.

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Book Review: Chasing Amanda, by Melissa Foster

It had been a cool October evening. Molly had left Walmart with an armful of groceries. She popped open the trunk and threw the bags in, trying to ignore the little girl’s screams coming from the black minivan two cars over. She settled herself into the driver’s seat, and rolled down the window. The deafening screams continued. Molly backed out of her parking space and inched slowly past the van’s rear bumper. The child’s father frantically tried to settle the little girl into the van, the little girl’s arms and legs thrashed wildly. The frustrated father’s eyes shot in Molly’s direction.

“She didn’t get the dolly she wanted,” the man had said through gritted teeth.

Molly hadn’t realized she was staring. Embarrassed, she had driven away. It was three days later, when Molly had seen Amanda’s face on the front page of the newspaper, that Molly put her nightmares and the image of the man together, and realized that it had not been the little girl’s father she had seen, but Amanda’s abductor, her murderer.

from Chasing Amanda, by Melissa Foster

Chasing Amanda, by Melissa FosterThe guilt felt by Molly Tanner had nearly destroyed her family, as the trauma isolated her from husband Cole and young son Erik. This was amplified by disturbing dreams she had of Amanda and the abductor during the three days after the encounter—prescient dreams, something Molly would come to call “the Knowing.”

In an attempt to finally exorcise the demons haunting Molly, she and Cole move from Philadelphia to the rural town of Boyds, Maryland, while Erik goes off to college, and things return to normal for the Tanners. Until the Knowing returns, giving Molly a glimpse of another young girl in peril. She then learns that Tracy Porter has gone missing, and Molly is left wondering if, by saving Tracy, she can redeem herself for the death of Amanda.

The Good

Chasing Amanda, by Melissa Foster, is a paranormal mystery/thriller that does a fantastic job of keeping readers guessing all the way to the end. It’s also my Eclectic Reader’s Challenge 2012 choice for the mystery/crime genre.

As Molly—against the firm wishes of her husband—takes on the mantle of psychic detective, she begins to uncover events in the town’s past that only amplify the suspense. One method used to do this involves two very likely suspects, both of whom are harboring awful secrets. The effect is increased when, later, it seems as if there may be a conspiracy at the root of the mystery, involving at least three of Boyds’ residents, all entwined with sordid details of the town’s history.

The suspense is wound tighter by scenes of intense emotion. Primarily, these scenes either involve Molly and her attempts to interpret the physical clues and the psychic messages and tie them together into something that makes sense, or Tracy and her fearful encounters with her abductor.

All of this makes for a novel that is hard to put down.

The Bad

In the end, things get a little twisted up, as Tracy’s abduction is weaved in with several of the mysteries presented by the town of Boyds and its residents. Although this makes for a wonderfully tangled mystery to solve, it seems as if some of the secondary plots end up lessening the impact of the main story line.

The Ugly

Chasing Amanda was published by Solstice Publishing, and the editing was fairly well done. There are areas where I believe splitting paragraphs or using different punctuation could have enhanced the story’s rhythm, there were no glaring errors in grammar or punctuation to distract from an enjoyable and thrilling reading experience.

Conclusion

Although I may have gone into more detail in describing the novel’s plot, Melissa Foster’s Chasing Amanda has far more depth than I could describe here without spoiling some of its surprises. I’m giving the book four stars out of five.

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Book Review: Bonded, by Mande Matthews

A long-limbed beauty straightened up from the edge of the still waters of Prophetess Cove, turning to face Hallad. The woman’s white hair silvered in the cast of the moonlight, shimmering off her naked limbs. Beads of water clung to her skin like hundreds of white jewels. The woman fixed her cool gaze on Hallad. Her hardened eyes defied the fact that she bared all to a strange man. Hallad could not turn away. No matter how hard he tried to look askance, his eyes stayed prisoner to her own iron black.

The empty space inside Hallad rushed with emotions he couldn’t identify. As their eyes connected, awareness surged through every muscle, bone and the blood of his body—a sense that on this night, the Norns drew forth his destiny from the rune stones. A shine in her dark irises, a flicker of her eyelid, told him she felt the same.

from Bonded: Book One of the ShadowLight Saga,
by Mande Matthews

Eclectic Reader's Challenge 2012Bonded: Book One of the ShadowLight Saga, by Mande Matthews, is my fantasy read for The Eclectic Reader’s Challenge 2012; I had previously identified it to be my romance choice, but the author’s input—and my reading—caused me to change up the genre. As Ms. Matthews related to me, the story does involve some romance, but it isn’t the main thrust of the tale.

I have to confess that I read very little fantasy these days, mostly because the majority of novels within the genre I read in my younger days were either trying too hard to be Tolkien-esque or were sadly influenced by someone’s role-playing game adventures. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Michael Moorcock, and Fritz Leiber were about the only fantasy authors I enjoyed. So now I must confess that I liked Bonded very much.

The story is set in Scandia, a land very much like the Scandinavia the name suggests, with the people of the land revering Norse gods such as Odin and Freya. I’m not well-informed on either ancient Scandinavia or Norse mythology, so I would have a hard time relaying how alike or not the setting is to their actual counterparts. I can say, however, that lack in no way interfered with my enjoyment of the novel, the people and places seeming at once strange and familiar.

Hallad, the son of a village chieftain, is banished from his home and, along with a pair of trusted friends and Swan, the enigmatic silver-haired woman, begins a quest to both find out the identity and nature of Swan and the fate of his sister, who mysteriously and literally vanished shortly after meeting Swan. He soon learns that almost everything he believes about himself and both the world he lives in and those beyond are not as they seem, and his connection to Swan is much closer than he had anticipated.

Continue reading

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