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Recommendation: Wicked

Wicked

The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

by Gregory Maguire

“ ‘I shall pray for your soul,’ promised Nessarose.

‘I shall wait for your shoes,’ Elphie answered. “

Most everyone has heard of the Tony Award-winning musical, Wicked. It is a world-renowned production that has been performed in both domestic and international theaters for over 16 years, to increased delight of audiences of all ages. However, what I am surprised to find, is that most of the patrons of the arts have no idea that their favorite musical is based upon a book – and not just loosely. The successful musical is the creation of a heavily adapted script born from the novel by Gregory Maguire. The author’s alternative telling of the much-beloved tale surrounding two witches in Oz and a curious brown-haired girl who comes for a visit, is captivating in both forms of art.

Each of Gregory Maguire’s books are unique. He is a master of taking a story that readers feel comfortable saying that they know inside and out, and then spinning it in a provocative manner, leaving the reader both bewildered and beautifully stunned. He has spun gold from confessions of ugly stepsisters and rewritten the perspectives of evil queens with sympathy and caring. Many authors have taken their turn at twisting a fairy tale or two, but none do it with the depth or finesse of Maguire.

Good and evil cannot always be taken at face value, and Wicked, the novel, proves that point. The story is centered around Elphaba, a girl with emerald skin and an untidy outlook on the world around her. The narrative begins with her unconventional conception and birth, and continues it’s chronicles of a hard childhood wrought with jealousy and insecurity. Elphaba is not what her parents had intended in a child and she reacts as such to their constant undercurrent of disappointment, becoming surly and almost savage in her growing years.

“ People who claim that they’re evil are usually no worse than the rest of us. . .

It’s people who claim that they’re good, or any way better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of.”

As a teenager growing up in “the good part of Oz,” Galinda had expectations for how her life would turn out. She’s pretty, she’s popular, and she has a knack for getting what she wants. To her horror she finds herself having to become roommates with a common green girl, but is surprised when a friendship slowly begins to blossom. Elphaba is a thinker and an activist, and she soon begins to bend the flighty Galinda to her ways. The girls become enraptured by the teachings and fierce cause of a specific professor, but when he is found murdered, both girls spin a bit out of control in their own individual ways. Galinda adopts a new name, Glinda, and throws herself into the studies of sorcery and magic. Elphaba secretly continues the professor’s research, attempting to gain new knowledge in the genetic similarities between animals and humans – which subsequently was the cause for which the professor was murdered.

As it so happens with teenage girls, a couple of boys are thrown into the mix. Boq is an addition to the small group from Elphaba’s hometown, and he hopes that his connections with the green girl will help him get closer to her attractive blonde counterpart. Fiyero is a boy who will have a lasting connection in the veins of Elphaba’s life (throughout the entire The Wicked Years Series, of which there are four novels), and play an important part in the intricately intertwined branches of her future.

Graduation nears and job prospects come to the friends and Elphaba’s younger sister. Nessarose. They are asked by the college’s mistress to travel to different corners of Oz as “ambassadors of peace.” But while something just doesn’t seem right to Elphaba and she begins to fight against the intimation of nefarious magic that seems to be twisting it’s way through her life, Glinda does just the opposite. After further disagreement, it is obvious that the once unlikely friends are closer than they ever thought possible, but also that they cannot agree on the very basic aspects of good and bad. They decide to choose their own paths and depart from one another’s lives.

“ And girls need cold anger.

They need the cold simmer, the ceaseless grudge, the talent to avoid forgiveness, the side stepping of compromise.

They need to know when they say something that they will never back down, ever, ever. ”

The story continues to follow Elphaba, who is five years older and fully immersed in an underground group trying to garner rights for animals and overthrow the corrupted Wizard of Oz. After a reconnection with a man from her past, the two become embroiled in a heated love affair, the fruits of which will not be fully revealed until many years later. But when the love of her life is kidnapped and murdered, Elphaba throws herself into sanctuary and is despondent, relying on the kindness of strangers to keep her going.

In a strange turn of events, Elphaba comes to live with her lover’s abandoned family, bringing with her a young boy. As time passes and the emerald-skinned woman grows in her powers and research, she battles with the internal struggles of being good while also having evil tendencies. She cannot navigate the waters of loving and being kind, and she has no idea how to show her true feelings. The scars of her unhappy childhood have stayed with her and she is unable to trust or believe in the good in people. Perhaps this is because almost everyone in her life has always had such a hard time believing that there is good in her – a green-skinned atrocity.

“ People always did like to talk, didn’t they?

That’s why I call myself a witch now: the Wicked Witch of the West, if you want the full glory of it.

As long as people are going to call you a lunatic anyway, why not get the benefit of it?

It liberates you from convention. ”

When Dorothy eventually makes her appearance, readers will find her nearly insufferable. She is but a pawn in the larger game of chess and as such, plays her part to a productive end. The Wizard pulls all of the strings, after all.

Wicked, the novel, is a richly woven tapestry of mystery, political drama and intrigue, complicated love, and the battle within one’s self between good and evil. It is truly Maguire’s masterpiece, and each book is as enjoyable as the one before it, pushing readers deeper and deeper into the strange recesses of Elphaba’s world and it’s spurs. The land of Oz is not as it seems, and the twists and turns throughout the land of Munchkins, witches of East and West, and talking animals is paved in yellow brick – only to be broken apart by a wayward tornado from Kansas.

I give Wicked 4 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to anyone who has a love of Oz and it’s mysteries but I also forewarn fans of the movie and L. Frank Baum books to keep an open mind. This book takes some attention, so readers should be sure to have time and energy to devote to reading it. The story is wrought with new words, new characters, and new places to visit, and as such is a bit heavy at times.  I do not recommend this book for readers under the age of 18, as there are several sexually deviant situations and highly suggestive scenes.

” And there the wicked old Witch stayed for a good long time. 

And did she ever come out?

Not yet. “

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Review: The Heiresses

The Heiresses

by Sara Shepard

” The girls were the future of Saybrook’s Diamonds, and they had to act accordingly. They were to live their lives with the utmost decorum, smile for the cameras, speak several languages, hold many degrees, cultivate the art of conversation, and, most important, refrain from doing anything that might bring scandal upon the family. 

And yet they had. All of them. It had been a summer of secrets. Secrets that set them apart and made them tighten inside — secrets that they hadn’t even told one another. As they glanced around the sweeping cathedral, they each suddenly feared a bolt of lightening from above. They were the heiresses, all right, the sparkling princesses of a family that might or might not be doomed. But by Edith’s standards, they hadn’t been behaving like heiresses at all. 

And it was only a matter of time before the world found out.  “

It was a sultry and sticky summer night when Steven Barnett mysteriously died.

The waves lapped around his pale body and he was dressed all in white, as was befitting the annual end-of-summer bash at the Saybrook family mansion in Meriweather. The family compound off the coast of New York was full of anyone and everyone who wanted or needed to be seen, including the most famous of the Saybrook family legacy – the beautiful and glamorous heiresses.

However, that fateful summer changed the course of each of their lives. For some,  in more ways than one. And years later, when another mysterious death takes one of their own, the heiresses think back to that summer and have to wonder. . . is this the notorious Saybrook Family Curse at work, or is it something more sinister – like murder? Like. . . revenge?

Poppy Saybrook is the stylish and sophisticated President of Saybrook’s Diamonds, her sparkle and pedigree on par with the cut and clarity of the top-shelf diamonds her family’s company provides to the rich and famous. She has it all – the handsome husband, 1.5 children, a luxurious apartment overlooking Central Park, and the top spot at work. Even though her parents’ died in a plane crash and she is an only child, Poppy never feels lonely, not with her cousins and their troubles to keep her company. But things are beginning to feel frosty between the impossibly beautiful married couple, and Jason’s eyes are starting to wander.

” The kitchen was large and airy, with new marble countertops and Brazilian cherry cabinets. Poppy, dressed in a gauzy batik-print silk popover and skinny pants that made her legs look a million miles long, stood at the island, arranging the tray of chopped-up locally grown vegetables she’d bought at the Union Square farmer’s market, her twenty-month-old, Briony, balanced on her hip. “

Rowan Saybrook has known Jason for most of her adult life, meeting him during their mutual time at Yale. She’s a successful house attorney for the family business but goes home alone to an empty apartment, with only her duo of dogs to keep her company. Being single was never her plan, but the one man she wants is not available, and so she feels she has no other choice but to throw herself into work. . . until one evening, when she’s had too much to drink, and instead, throws herself into the arms of a forbidden man. When Rowan wakes up the next morning, she is horrified to find the much-married man she’s been pining over for years still in her apartment, especially when she finds out that the man’s wife has thrown herself off the balcony of her office onto the dirty and crowded streets of New York – to her death.

” Of course, in time those wee the girls who got steady boyfriends, while Rowan had just acquired a string of make-out buddies. She tried to change her ways, oping what she saw in the paired-up girls she knew, but becoming a softer, needier, whinier version of herself just didn’t work. And so she settled into the role of the quintessential guy’s girl. “

Corinne Saybrook is getting married.  She has the perfect, custom, Chantilly lace gown. She has the most impeccable location. She has just the right man to fit by her side. But when the catering company she’s had booked for months pulls out at the last minute and her fiancee brings in another chef, she is shocked to see a face from her past. A face she’s been trying to forget for more than five years, and a face that dredges up memories of a stolen summer, a broken heart, and a child given up for adoption. Corinne begins to watch as her flawless life garners crack after crack, and she is surprised to find that she doesn’t mind as much as she thought she would.

” Corinne pushed her dirty-blonde hair behind her ears. She’d been with Dixon since their sophomore year at Yale. Well, except for that one summer just after graduation — but Corinne had always liked a story with a happy ending, and she’d neatly trimmed that interlude from her personal history. “

Aster Saybrook couldn’t care less about her sister’s upcoming wedding. She has places to go and people to be seen with. She takes the job of socialite very seriously and makes it her purpose in life to spend as much of her family’s money as she can, her ostentatiousness rivaling that of fellow blonde heiress Paris Hilton.  When her father puts a stop to her incessant partying and forces her to get a job, she finds herself in the position of detective as much as a representative of Saybrook’s Diamonds. Aster becomes wrapped up in solving not one but two murders, and has to relive a summer she only looks back on with regrets.

” Aster teetered in on jet-black five-inch laser-cut booties. A hand-rolled cigarette dangled from her lips, the stench of tobacco overpowering the salon’s light floral scent. Her wet trench dripped puddles on the mahogany floor. Her fuchsia dress, also wet, clung high to her thighs. Though Aster would have still been striking even after a roll in a city Dumpster, there were circles under her large, luminous blue eyes, and her ice-blond hair was matted. She had a disoriented, used-up look about her. Corinne wondered if her younger sister had just emerged from a stranger’s bed after one of her typical all-night bacchanals. “

Natasha Saybrook renounced her title as heiress to the family fortune and struck out on her own, leaving her mark on the city in a very different way than her cousins. But why did she find herself so disgusted with the Saybrook’s Dimonds legacy? Too bad the cousins can’t ask her – Natasha is in a coma after a car violently and determinedly pushed hers off a bridge and she nearly drowned.

” But after Natasha disinherited herself from the family — never explaining why — she treated Rowan and the others like irritating pedestrians taking up the whole sidewalk on Fifth Avenue. “

With a nasty secret threatening to break the family and their illustrious business apart, the heiresses must get to the bottom of the mystery before it’s too late, bringing all of the skeletons out of the closet in the most public of ways. A nefarious website, The Blessed and the Cursed, is garnering heavy web traffic as the site chronicles every move the girls make, Gossip Girl style. The FBI agent in charge of the case is layered in lies and has a personal agenda. And a previously exiled red-head decides to reappear in the most powerful of ways, bringing the family together while simultaneously tearing it apart.

The Heiresses is an adult novel written by Sara Shepard, who is best known for her Pretty Little Liars Series for young adults; a series that has proven itself successful both in literary form and on the small screen, the latter of which is on its seventh and final season. I’ve never personally read any other of the other series by Shepard, but her bibliography is extensive, boasting four series and several other stand-alone books.

]I really enjoyed this novel, one that I picked up for $2 in the clearance section of my local Half Price Books. The story moved quick, and while I sometimes found it confusing as the point-of-view bounced back and forth between the heiresses in the beginning, they are all so vastly different that it didn’t take me long to catch up. The story was really fun and wild, reminding me a lot of Gossip Girl (the show, not the books. I’ve not read any of the novels).  This book would be great to read while on a road trip or vacation, as it moves along very quickly. It definitely falls into the chick-lit category, and I would save it for readers 18+ due to the sexual content.

I give The Heiresses 4.5 out of 5 stars – shaving off half a star only for the fact that I am seriously annoyed that the author has announced this is a stand-alone book and will not have a sequel – despite it being categorized as a “series” on the author’s website. It left off with one heck of a cliffhanger, and I am dying to know what happened! I can’t believe the author would leave her readers hanging like that – shame on you, Sara Shepard! I’m still going to hold out hope!

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Recommendation: Me Before You

Me Before You

by Jojo Moyes

“ …I told him a story of two people. Two people who shouldn’t have met, and who didn’t like each other much when they did, but who found they were the only two people in the world who could possibly have understood each other. ”

Sometimes I wonder how publishing houses feel when they give a hard pass to a book and it ends up becoming a national bestseller. Do they have regrets? Is it just a drop in the bucket? Does it even bother them at all, considering how many novels are pushed out each year by countless houses? Does someone get fired? Yelled at? It intrigues me.

Jojo Moyes wrote Me Before You in 2012, after a multitude of other novels that garnered reasonably good numbers and critical acclaim, as well as a few awards. Previously a journalist of more than a decade, she decided that full-time novel writing was her future. But when she brought Me Before You to her longstanding publishing house, they passed, and so she moved along and sold the book elsewhere. Subsequently, the romance novel featuring a quirky girl in bumblebee tights  and a wheelchair-bound boy with hair that’s too long sold over six-million copies in countless countries and ended up in Hollywood as a film starring two impossibly good looking actors.

Makes you wonder, right?

I’ve read a lot of romance novels. I’ve read the quickly turned-around and recycled babble of Harlequin authors. I’ve read the slightly more scandalous authors like Lori Foster and Patti Berg. I’ve read 50 Shades.  I’ve read historical romance, contemporary romance, sci-fi romance, teen romance. I just like to read, so no genre or author is off limits (unless you ask me to read Ayn Rand. That’s a hard no). But even with all of my reading, I still found Me Before You unique.

If I had to compare this book to work by another author, I would say it is most like a Nicholas Sparks novel. But even then, it’s not. Nicholas Sparks always ends up killing off the characters we fall in love with in some tragic, heart wrenching way that can almost always be avoided. I think Sparks needs some serious therapy, and maybe needs to buy a puppy or something. He seems very unhappy. He just can’t let his characters have a happy ending. The Notebook? Okay, I’ll give him that one. But I have literally stopped reading so many of his books because I could see what was happening. . . the main character was going to die, after falling in love, and then you know, his heart will be cut from his chest and go to save his teenage love’s son or something. Me Before You is kind of like that, but also so unique that it’s difficult to compare it to anything else. There is such an undercurrent of humor and sweetness, and even though you know what is going to happen – there is just no getting around it – you are okay with it. Yes, you cry, but you are okay. What happened needed to happen. And you can enjoy the book for what it is, not feeling ripped off as you finish the final pages and find everyone dead – either literally or just on the inside.

Louisa Clark doesn’t have it easy, but you won’t hear her complain. She comes from solid stock, and they all stick together.

The cafe she has spent years working in is closing up shop, and the loss  finds her at the doorstep of the Traynor residence, anxiously pushing through an interview for a job that she doesn’t really want – but needs. She has a family to help support and the Clark’s are all in it together. Being a caretaker is very low on her list of dream jobs, but it’s better than the other prospects, and so she accepts the offer and is grateful for the adequate pay.

But when she meets Will, her moody, strange, and sometimes downright insufferable ward, Louisa’s mind starts to backtrack. She is usually so adept at maintaining the pep in her step and has a positive attitude that is beyond reproach, and Will’s bad temper is starting to rub off on her. She doesn’t like it. She doesn’t like him. But she does need the steady work.

Will was a larger than life personality before a freak motorcycle accident took his body. He is now a shell of his former self, passing his time with a cynical attitude and plenty of music and film. He’s not much of a people person anymore, being not only bound to a wheelchair but also in the unusual space of being rather vulnerable emotionally. As a quadriplegic, he is completely dependent on other people for every single aspect of his bodily life. He in turn, finds the entire situation depressing and humiliating, leaving him full of enmity towards everyone and everything.

At first, Louisa’s bubbly persona only seems to irritate Will further and she finds herself questioning her abilities for helping him. He has a physical therapist who does the majority of the grunt work, and she knows she is there mainly to lift Will’s spirits and provide him with quiet companionship. But after she overhears his parents discussing Will’s plans to end his life in six month’s time, she becomes determined to change the inevitable outcome. She reaches into the depths of her resolve and patience, and vows to make Will’s life better and a as full as she can.

“ ‘Just hold on. Just for a minute.”
“Are you all right ?”
I found my gaze dropping towards his chair, afraid some part of him was pinched, or trapped, that I had got something wrong.

“I’m fine. I just…I don’t want to go in just yet. I just want to sit and not have to think about. . .I just. . .want to be a man who has been to a concert with a girl in a red dress. Just for a few minutes more. . .’ “

She has some bumps along the way, mostly due to her inexperience with Will’s lifestyle in the wheelchair, but the pair find themselves growing closer. They take in a concert together, they watch horse races, and they attend a wedding. They slowly and organically find themselves confiding in each other, and Louisa learns all about how big Will’s life was before his accident. She listens with rapt attention as he describes places like Paris and the outrageous hobbies he used to have when he had control of his body. She has always lived in a very small world, feeling the burden of her family on her shoulders, and Will encourages her to get out and take risks. Louisa finds herself questioning her longterm relationship with her boyfriend, Patrick, as she begins to see him through new eyes – she sees how superficial and shallow he is, compared to the depth and thoughtfulness of Will’s attentions. Louisa sees more and more how hard it is for Will to sustain life. He is easily fatigued and susceptible to illness, and his frustrations at not being able to do the most simplest things (like button his own shirt or hold a woman he is kissing) breed sadness in her.

“ ‘You cut yourself off from all sorts of experiences because you tell yourself you are ‘not that sort of person.”
“But, I’m not.”
“How do you know? You’ve done nothing, been nowhere. How do you have the faintest idea what kind of person you are?’ “

Despite the hiccoughs in their relationship, of course, the inevitable happens. . . Louisa begins to fall in love. She doesn’t even seem to realize it’s happening until it’s too late and she can’t stop it. Will has already been there, just waiting for her and her feelings to catch up, but he’d never say a word because he doesn’t want her to live her life for him. He wants Louisa to live her life for her – for once.

“ I realized I was afraid of living without him.

How is it you have the right to destroy my life, I wanted to demand of him, but I’m not allowed a say in yours?
But I had promised. ”

Me Before You is a novel that will make you cry, so be prepared. But I promise it will be bittersweet tears. Will and Louisa couldn’t possibly spend an entire lifetime together, but the time they do have is special beyond measure.

I give this book 4.5. out of 5 stars, and I recommend reading the last quarter of it in private. You can read the rest of it by the pool once the sun finally comes out and we sail into summer, but leave the rest for when you are alone and can ugly cry in peace. It also has a sequel, Me After You, and the movie is a beautifully scripted adaptation that follows very closely to the novel.

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Review: Orange Is The New Black

Orange Is The New Black

My Year In A Women’s Prison

by Piper Kerman

” As Nina headed down the hill to the FCI, I felt a real sense of loss. She was the first real friend I had made, and I wouldn’t have any contact with her at all. Prison is so much about the people who are missing from your life and who fill your imagination. Some of the missing were just across the prison grounds — I knew a half-dozen women who had sisters or cousins down the hill in the high-security prison. One day while walking back to work after lunch, I glimpsed Nina through the back gate of the FCI and went crazy jumping up and down and waving. She saw me and waved too. The truck that patrolled the prison perimeter screeched to a halt between us.

“Cut that shit out!” came sharply from the guard inside. “

If you are a subscriber to the multi-faceted and revolutionary streaming site Netflix, then the odds are that you’ve seen Orange is the New Black. The popular show chronicling the lives of women in the prison system is currently the most watched show on the pay-for-play programming service and it’s not hard to understand why. The lives of the women involved are richly woven together, their stories unique and sometimes heartbreaking, and viewers binge watch season after season with impending hope, fear, and optimism.

Orange is the New Black was adapted for television via a book, as most good programs and movies are. The lead character in the show is based upon the real-life author of the memoir, Piper Kerman.

As a freshly graduated 20-something in the early 1990’s, Piper was living in New York and trying to figure out what to do with herself. As all of her friends begin to bundle themselves off into professional jobs in the city or head out of the country for backpacking expeditions, she finds herself prowling around with a group of stylish and laid-back lesbians, one of which catches her eye. Piper falls into step with playful, wisecracking, and older Nora Jansen, (based on the real life Cleary Wolters) and begins to follow her around the world like the proverbial puppy dog. They take exotic vacations to sandy and sunny destinations, all on Nora’s dime. . . and the dimes, they are a’plenty.

Soon enough, Piper learns where Nora is getting all of her money. She’s a drug smuggler, running a game for a drug lord who is flying under the radar somewhere in Africa, and Piper is completely swept up in the intrigue, eventually running a few loads of cash herself. But once the novelty and adrenaline burns off,  it doesn’t take long for the whole scene to make Piper uncomfortable and she hightails it out of there, finding her stomach is just not made for the criminal lifestyle.

It is nearly a decade later when Piper receives a visit from the FBI, learning that she has been indicted on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering, having been named in the case by prior witnesses and other criminals involved, and after another six years of waiting, she is finally sentenced to fifteen months in Danbury, a federal prison in Connecticut. The hip and adventurous girl of 22 grew up to become a mature and law-abiding citizen, engaged to a Jew, and a freelance producer living in New York, but Piper must do the time for her crimes of her youth. She self-surrenders to the prison after weeks of binge eating her favorite foods and drinking as much good coffee as she can, and becomes Prisoner #11187-424 in a place full of women from all walks of life.

Prison is not what Piper was expecting – but it’s not as bad as movies made it out to be either. She’s not in a place with murderers or hardened and seasoned criminals. Most of her dorm and bunk mates are drug offenders like herself, and mostly for the same offenses she carried out. She meets women from multiple avenues of life and in a variety of stages in age, and she is surprised at the camaraderie and heavily maintained levels of respect the women all share for one another. There are strict guidelines to follow – newbies are not allowed to make their own beds, don’t ever get caught out of your dorm during count, never, ever go into the shower without shoes on, negative opinions about the food are forbidden, cleaning on cleaning day is not an option – and Piper is able to navigate her time with integrity, making unexpected friends a long the way.

” Larry came to see me every week, and I lived for those visits — they were the highlight of my life in Danbury, a chest-filling affirmation of how much I loved him. My mother drove six hours round-trip until I begged her to come every other week. I saw more of her during the eleven months I was at Danbury than I had in all my previous adult years. 

Yoga Janet and Sister Platte always had lots of visitors, aging counterculture hipsters and rosy-cheeked lefties in homespun Guatemalan cottons, respectively. Sister Platte was frustrated by the BOP’s effective censorship of her visiting list — international peace figures had tried to gain permission to visit her and had been denied. 

Some women never got visits because they had effectively said goodbye to the outside world. No children, no parents, no friends, nobody. Some of them were halfway around the world from home, and some of them didn’t have a home. Some women stated flatly that they did not want their people to se them in a place like this. In general, the longer you were down, the fewer and farther between were your visits. I worried about my bunkie, Natalie, finishing her eight-year bid; she spoke to her young son on the phone every night and received many letters but didn’t have a single visit in the year we lived together. I observed the unspoken privacy wall we erected between us in our seven-by-ten-foot space, and never asked.  “

Orange is the New Black, the memoir, is not nearly as interesting as the show. The author tends to bog the reader down with statistics and insists upon pushing her agenda –  proclaiming that prisoners are not treated as well as they should be (although why she is complaining I have no idea. She had everything she needed and almost all of what she wanted during her 15 month stint) and most prisoners do not deserve to be locked away in prison in the first place. I found that part of her agenda to be a bit hypocritical, as she was a drug trafficker (albeit, a minor one) and helped put drugs on the streets, and she was locked up with several addicts of whom she felt sorry for. I don’t think that the author really thought about the effects she had on society by her actions in the drug arena, and how drugs being available on the streets creates a ripple that effects not only the user but also their families and friends. It’s ironic that she did not see the connection, seeing as how many families she saw in Danbury – not only as inmates but also in the visiting room. She complained over and over about having to serve her time for crimes that were long since in the past, and I think she completely missed the point as to why she was in prison in the first place. She tended to believe that since she was now a “good person” and a law abiding citizen, her crimes of the past should somehow be absolved and that putting her into the system was a waste of time and tax payers money. I’m not sure I agree with that. The only time Piper truly seems to understand and regret her crimes is when she is denied a furlough to visit her dying grandmother. And even then, she focuses more on how unfair it is that she cannot leave and have her visit, and less on the reason WHY she is there in the first place.

” Southern-proper and birdlike but possessing a stern, formidable personality, my grandmother had been a constant figure in my life A child of West Virginia who grew up in the Depression with two brothers and then raised four sons, she had little idea what to do with a young girl, her eldest grandchild, and I was scared of her. I remained in awe of her, although as I got older, we developed an easier rapport. She spoke frankly to me in private about sex, feminism, and power. She and my grandfather were dumbstruck and horrified by my criminal misadventures, and yet they never let me forget that they loved me and worried about me. The one thing that I feared most about prison was that one of them would die while I was in here. 

I pleaded with my father on the pay phone — she would be fine, she would get better, she would be there when I came home He didn’t argue back, just said, “Write her.” I was on a regular schedule of writing short, cheery updates to my grandparents, reassuring them that I was fine and couldn’t wait to see them when I got home. Now I sat down to write a different kind of letter, one that tried to convey how much she meant to me, how much she had taught me, how I wanted to emulate her rigor and rectitude, how much I loved and missed her. I couldn’t believe I had screwed up so badly, to be in this place when she needed me, when she was sick and maybe dying. 

Immediately after posting the letter, I asked the Camp secretary for a furlough request form. “Were you raised by your grandma?” she asked brusquely. When I said no, she told me there was no point in giving me the form — I would never be granted a furlough for a grandparent. I sharply said that I was furlough-eligible and would make the request anyway.

“Suit yourself,” she snapped. “

Kerman also complains a lot about the exit strategy for prisoners, and how they are not set up to succeed. They are not taught the skills of obtaining a job, a home, health insurance, or at the very least – a stable environment after leaving the confines of the prison.  This is something I can agree with, unlike Kerman’s stance on drug offenders and/or minor crime offenders not having to serve real time. Piper also apparently does not agree with the stoic and cold way that guards treat the prisoners, although I cannot think of how else a guard could treat someone in their care. Being kind can be seen as a weakness and be taken advantage of and the people incarcerated are in fact, proven criminals, no matter what for. I’m not sure what Piper was expecting from her handlers when she was locked up, but the prison guards can’t very well spend their time playing dominos or checkers with their wards. In fact, guards are forbidden from asking anything personal to the inmates under their care, and as this is a women’s prison and most of the guards are male, being overly friendly also opens the door for inappropriate relationships. Kerman spent pages and pages going on and on about one guard in particular who made a crude comment towards her and I had to wonder why she just couldn’t let it go – if the same comment had been said to her on a New York street or subway, she would have laughed it off and moved on with her life.

All in all, I give Orange is the New Black, the memoir, 3 out of 5 stars. While I know that it is critically acclaimed, I got tired of her diatribes on the unfairness of prison, especially as she had an endless supply of money on her tab for commissary,  had multiple visits each week the entire time she was an inmate (oh, sorry, she did complain at length about the time her fiancee did not come and visit her because he had a job interview), had more books and mail than she could read, and pretty much got her way any time she actually tried. Prison isn’t a vacation, after all – maybe someone should have told Piper that before she went away to “camp.”

I’d recommend it if you’ve got 48 hours to plow through this short book (its only 300 pages) and are curious about the real Piper and her real story, but if you’re reading it to gain insight into anything else you will be disappointed. A few notable characters from the television series do make an appearance, but they are far and few between and are not elaborated upon.

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Recommendation: The Martian

The Martian

by Andy Weir

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”

I just love it when the underdog wins.

Some might not consider Andy Weir, author of the bestselling novel and popular movie, The Martian, to be an underdog because as we all know, his book is a success. The book earned a coveted spot on the New York Times Best Seller List, where it sat for 33 weeks. Matt Damon starred in the movie as the fallible but ever resourceful and likable botanist and engineer, Mark Watney. So on paper, Andy Weir is the picture of accomplishment and triumph.

But he is an underdog. And, he’s a nerd.

A nerd is anyone who willingly chooses to become a scholar of subjects like astronomy, spaceflight, and orbital mechanics in his spare time and someone who readily admits to having seen every episode of Doctor Who. A nerd is someone who decides to write his own computer program just to calculate the orbital trajectory that his imaginary crew might take to get from Earth to Mars and back again. And a nerd is anyone who decides to become a computer programmer at the age of fifteen, that precarious age where most boys are interested in how they look with their shirts off and which girl they can get to go to second base with them in the backseat of their mom’s car.

Andy Weir is a nerd and guess what – nerds run the world. And apparently, they run Space and the Great Beyond as well.

The Martian is the debut novel from a science-fiction geek and meticulously correct and self-made spacial expert, and the story of one man’s quest to make it back home after being stranded on Mars. It is not, as the title may suggest, a book about little green people.

Mark Watney is on a mission with his NASA crew that should be routine, but when a dust storm fouls their plans and the group has to book it out of there in a hurry, he is left behind – and thought to be dead.

But Mark is indeed alive and after waking up on the surface of the planet Mars alone, he begins the slow trek back to camp, only to discover that his crew has abandoned their search for him and has left him with no way to garner communications back to Earth to prepare for his retrieval. He must rely on himself for survival, and begins to take stock of his surroundings and prospects. He knows how much food he has left and he knows how long he can stay alive with it. He knows that he needs to create more food, but to do that, he needs water. Mars isn’t an ideal place to have these problems, and he finds the planet less than cooperative. Mark has to call on every ounce of his ingenuity and skill as a trained botanist and NASA engineer to maintain life.

” LOG ENTRY: SOL 381

I’ve been thinking about laws on Mars.

Yeah, I know, it’s a stupid thing to think about, but I have a lot of free time.

There’s an international treaty saying no country can lay claim to anything that’s not on Earth. And by another treaty, if you’re not in any country’s territory, maritime law applies.

So Mars is “international waters.”

NASA is an American nonmilitary organization, and it owns the Hab. So while I’m in the Hab, American law applies. As soon as I step outside, I’m in international waters. Then when I get in the rover, I’m back to American law.

Here’s the cool part: I will eventually go to Schiaparelli and commandeer the Ares 4 lander. Nobody explicitly gave me permission to do this, and they can’t until I’m aboard Ares 4 and operating the comm system. After I board Ares 4, before talking to NASA, I will take control of a craft in international waters without permission.

That makes me a pirate!

A space pirate! ”

Once he has the problem of food somewhat out of the way, Watney moves on to his second problem – instrumenting his rescue. Readers are privy to his daily schedule and routine via travel logs that he enters into the computer every day, as part of his quest to remain sane. It was great to get insight into Mark’s personality at times like this, because he really is a funny guy.

“ Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” if I were the only remaining person.
What do you know? I’m in command. ”

In the meantime, NASA has picked up his movements over satellite imaging and they are trying to decide how best to proceed. After all, they have already announced not only to Mark’s family that he is dead, but have also told the Free World – and Mark’s crew is still out there in space, making their own way home. The powers that be decide to withhold the information of Mark’s survival from the crew for the time being, not wishing to distract them.

Eventually though, Mark’s crew is told of his survival and they have a choice to make. Do they go back? How do they go back? How do they even find Mark if they decide to go back?

Readers are given the point of view of Mark, his crew mates, and the NASA headquarters as preparations for Mark’s rescue begin.

What I liked most about The Martian was that at every turn, Watney would hit a snag, and sometimes, it was a major one. More often than not, the NASA engineer seemed almost bumbling, at constant war with Murphy’s Law, and if it could happen to him – well, it did. It helped turn a character from someone who could easily become aloof and unrelatable due to his high intelligence level (I mean come on – NASA engineer, right?) into someone who was common and real. The author did not include a whole lot of character development or description, focusing mostly on the science and orbital function of the missions.

And that brings me to what I did not like about this book. The science. . . oh, the science. Admittedly I am not a scientific sort. I failed high school chemistry and had to retake the course, and still only barely scraped by. I have never been mathematically inclined either, as all of my interests and talents have always leaned towards English and sociological subjects. But I am a reader of anything and I have gotten through many a science fiction novel, although The Martian is more than that. The author sometimes went off on these scientific tangents and it left me so bored and eventually irritated that it took me much longer to get through this book than I think it should have. My advice to any reader who finds this could become a problem is simply this – skip through (unless, of course, you think you may soon be stranded on Mars). You won’t be missing anything, I promise. The underlying story and plot is so interesting and gripping that you’ll find that even with the massive amounts of science, you can get through the book with some ease – as well as find it enjoyable.

All in all, I give The Martian 4.5 out of 5 stars. The book was innovative and original, and I have to hand it to a guy who threw his book up online for .99 and ended up on the New York Times Best Seller List. He’s kind of my hero.

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Review: The Alchemyst – The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

The Alchemyst – The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

by Michael Scott

” I am legend.

Death has no claim over me, illness cannot touch me. Look at me now and it would be hard to put an age upon me, and yet I was born in the Year of Our Lord 130, more than six hundred and seventy years ago. 

I have been many things in my time: a physician and a cook, a bookseller and a soldier, a teacher of languages and chemistry, both an officer of the law and  a thief. 

But before all of these I was an alchemyst. I was the Alchemyst. 

I was acknowledged as the greatest Alchemyst of all, sought after by kings and princes, by emperors and even the Pope himself. I could turn ordinary metal into gold, I could change common stones into precious jewels. More than this: I discovered the secret Life Eternal hidden deep in a book of ancient magic. 

Now my wife, Perenelle, has been kidnapped and the book stolen. “

I often wonder about the real-life heroes.

The ones that authors pluck from history as any random climbing rose in an English garden or a dandelion swaying in the wind of an open meadow. Many authors will find their inspiration hiding in an old history text, choosing to build their epic romances, arduous tales of war, or their harrowing adventures around real-life figures.

One such figure that creeps into a lot of modern day writing is the elusive and mysterious Nicholas Flamel. Readers have followed his legacy through Harry Potter’s quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone, they have heard him described as a supposed Grand Master of the Priory of Scion while on a journey with Robert Langdon as he sought out the Holy Grail, and even the famed Indiana Jones has spent time searching for Flamel’s ancient text that is said to describe the process of how to alchemically produce the elixir of everlasting life.

History says that Nicholas Flamel stumbled upon a puzzling and peculiar book while traveling as a scribe and bookseller sometime in the 1300’s. Flamel was assumed to already be a student of the sorcerous art of alchemy, the medieval forerunner to what we now accept as modern day chemistry, and his interests pushed he and his wife Perenelle to read every book on the subject that they could get their hands on, often traveling to distant lands in search of translators and often meeting up with curious characters much like those that they are paired up with in later literature for entertainment value.

Shortly after coming into possession of The Book of Abramelin, a veritable grimoire that is said to hold the secrets for turning ordinary metal into gold, Flamel departed the city. When Nicholas and his wife returned from a sabbatical that took nearly twenty years, their wealth was immeasurable. Rumors over their considerable and somewhat overnight wealth swirled the city despite his best efforts to lead a quiet and unassuming life,  and the Flamel’s took care to donate much of their wealth to charity: sponsoring hospitals, churches, and orphanages around the Paris area where they took up residence in a stone house that still stands to this day.

After the couple died, their home was torn apart as scavengers searched for the secrets of their wealth, but nothing was ever found. Their tomb was eventually invaded by the same type of predators in the hopes of recovering something of substance, but to the criminal’s surprise, the graves were empty – spurring the legend of the immortal Flamels and further instigating the fire that surrounded their mysterious alchemical connections. As the days after their deaths turned into years and decades, reported sightings of the Flamels continued to emerge and to be recorded, leaving one to wonder – were they actually immortal? Does the Philosopher’s Stone actually exist?

The Alchemyst is a mid-grade level book written by Irish author Michael Scott. While he has written other series for the same age group, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series is definitely his shining star.

The story is set around a colorful collection of characters:

  • Nicholas and his wife Perenelle, who are former historical alchemists now living in modern-day California as booksellers.
  • Sophie and Josh Newman are a pair of teenaged twins; Josh works for Nicholas in the bookshop and Sophie works across the street at a coffee bar.
  • Dr. John Dee, a curious historical figure best known as his role in Elizabeth I’s life as her chief doctor, trusted personal advisor and astrologer, is our clear villain.
  • Mythological creatures Scathach (a Celtic warrior), Hekate (a three-faced goddess of Greek lore who is known for her protectiveness of family), Bastet (the Egyptian goddess of warfare), the Morrigan (an Irish symbol of fate), and The Witch of Endor (the Biblical mistress of the air) all make an appearance – but while it may seem that some figures are on the right side of peace and others are on the wrong side of evil, readers are encouraged to not trust anyone.

Nicholas is alarmed to become involved in a magical shootout when Dr. John Dee and his nefarious cohorts pop into the bookshop, searching for the elusive Book of Abraham the Mage, a book that Dee has been searching for over the centuries. Flamel has been able to outsmart and outrun his previous pupil in the world of alchemy so far, but it seems that the run is over. Or is it? Flamel is able to sneak his way out of the shop with his employee Josh, a terrified teenager, at his side and after learning that his wife Perenelle has been subsequently kidnapped by Dee, Flamel grabs Josh’s twin sister Sophie and they set out on the road searching for sanctuary.

Flamel is pained to be separated from his precious wife and he is inflamed to realize that Dee was able to procure the book from him. If Nicholas and Perenelle do not create and ingest the alchemical formula for immortality once a month, they will begin to age at an alarming rate – one year per day they do not have their elixir. His attempt at flight brings them to a hidden dojo where they end up bringing an ancient goddess of war into the fray with them – Scathach, better known as Scatty. While the red-haired warrior may look like a teenager herself, she is actually one in a line of Elders, albeit of the Next Generation, meaning she is not as old and powerful as some of the creatures out there. She agrees to help guide the twins and Flamel to the refuge of Hekate, where they hope to regroup and regain their strength before formulating a plan.

” At the mention of the word twins, Scatty looked up from her packing. “They’re the real reason you’re here, aren’t they?”

Flamel suddenly found something very interesting to stare at on the wall. 

Scatty strode across the small room, glanced out into the hall to make sure Sophie and Josh were still in the kitchen, and then pulled Flamel into the room and pushed the door closed. 

“You’re up to something, aren’t you?” she demanded. “This is about more than just the loss of the Codex. You could have taken Dee and his minions on your own.”

“Don’t be so sure. It’s been a long time since I fought, Scathach,” Flamel said gently. “The only alchemy I do now is to brew a little of the philosopher’s stone potion to keep Perenelle and myself young. Occasionally, I’ll make a little gold or the odd jewel when we need some money.”

Scatty coughed a short humorless laugh, and spun back to her packing. She had changed into a pair of black combat pants, steel-toed Magnum boots and a black T-shirt, over which she wore a black vest covered in pockets and zippers. She pushed a second pair of trousers into her backpack, found one sock and went looking for its match under her bed. 

“Nicholas Flamel,” she said, her voice muffled by the blankets, “you are the most powerful alchemyst in the known world. Remember, I stood beside you when we fought the demon Fomor, and you were the one who rescued me from the dungeons of An Chaor-Thanach and not the other way around. ” She came out from under the bed with the missing sock. “When the Rusalka were terrorizing St. Petersburg, you alone turned them back, and when Black Annis raged across Manitoba, I watched you defeat her. You alone faced down the Night Hag and her Undead army. You’ve spent more than half a millennium reading and studying the Codex, no one is more familiar with the stories and legends it holds –” 

Scatty stopped suddenly and gasped, green eyes widening. “That’s what this is about,” she said. “This is to do with the legend. . . “

Flamel reached out and pressed his forefinger to Scatty’s lips, preventing her from saying another word. His smile was enigmatic.

“Do you trust me?” he asked her eventually. “

But Dr. John Dee and his impatient clients, the Morrigan and Bastet, have a different idea. While Dee was able to snatch the book off of Flamel before he fled, he is furious to learn that several of the pages have been snatched out – in fact, they are the single most important pages of the entire book. Dee and his clients devise a plan to attack the Flamel group in Hekate’s haven, which will result in the deaths of things that have been alive since the beginning of time.

While visiting the enigmatic and curious Hekate, Flamel has begun to formulate some suspicions. The twins, Sophie and Josh, seem to have more to them than meets the eye. The Book of Abraham speaks of a set of magical twins and predicts that they will either save the world or end it, and Flamel has to wonder. . . are these the ones of which the foretelling told? Hekate is able to see their auras which burn a bright gold and silver, confirming what Flamel is equal parts afraid of and excited about. The twins become even more precious commodities now, and it is his mission to Awaken their powers and to keep them safe until their paths become clear.

When Dee, Bastet, the Morrigan, and a slew of their demented creatures descend onto Hekate’s home, war breaks out. And although one twin has been Awakened, the other has not, and contempt and jealousy begin to take root as the group escapes and begins another journey.

” Hekate fell silent, watching the twins punch and kick next to Scathach.

“Silver and gold. The rarest of all auras,” she muttered, and for a single heartbeat, the auras bloomed around the twins. “If I do this and it kills them, will you be able to live with it on your conscience?”

“I am old now, so old,” Nicholas said very softly. “Do you know how many friends I’ve buried over the centuries?”

“And did you feel their loss?” There was a note of genuine curiosity in Hekate’s voice.

“Every one.”

“Do you still?”

“Yes. Every day.” 

The goddess reached out and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Then you are still human, Nicholas Flamel. The day you stop caring is the day you become like Dee and his kind.” “

The Alchemyst is a book that can be enjoyed by all ages, but is truly geared toward both male and female readers between the ages of 10 and 15. Readers who enjoyed the Harry Potter series and the Percy Jackson books will enjoy this series of 6, becoming enthralled by a magical world within a world, and following along with likable characters through their tribulations.

While I found the beginning of the book started off with a splash of adventure and fast-paced excitement, the middle portion stalled a little. I think it was to produce some character development since the beginning missed a lot of that due to the exploits, and I am hoping that as the book ended much as it began, that the rest of the books in the series will remain as thrilling.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars, knocking off points for the stall in the middle and for the onslaught of mythological creatures that got a little convoluted at times. I didn’t feel the descriptions were clear enough for the targeted age group, but that is not to say that it will not be enjoyed. Readers may want to have their computer or iPad at the ready to look up the creatures to formulate an accurate description in their mind.

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Recommendation: The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop

by Nina George

“ He wanted her to sense the boundless possibilities offered by books. They would always be enough. They would never stop loving their readers.

They were a fixed point in an otherwise unpredictable world.

In life. In love. After death. ”

Monsieur Perdu is a doctor, of sorts.

He is a self-proclaimed literary apothecary, and from his well-worn barge filled to the brim with books of every size, shape, theory, and subject, he prescribes what he believes to be the perfect book to cure what ails each patient that willingly walks across his nautical threshold.  Upon his seaworthy shop, Lulu, Perdu can alleviate the woes of any heart, give credence to the most unrequited of loves, he can stay any deeply rooted anger, and he can bring laughter to the sourest soul.

But although he can almost always find the answer for healing his readers, he sits alone most nights in his home at number 27 Rue Montagnard, wondering whatever happened to that woman he was in love with. She was his soulmate, the woman who left him.  Manon was the one who made the sun bright and the night sultry, and she left him without a whisper of a proper goodbye. Or so he thought.

From his quiet apartment in a building full of colorful characters, Monsieur Perdu can hear the newest tenant crying. She is the soon-to-be divorcee of a veritable swine. The man she was married to walked out on her, leaving her with next to nothing, and she is the current gossip of the building. Something in the woman’s incessant tears, heard from behind an oval-shaped glass door, reaches out to the long-forgotten recesses of Perdu’s heart and he is called to her service in the only way he knows how – in the literary sense. He has avoided emotional connections with people since his great love left him, but he is drawn to the mystery woman behind the glass door.

” He had his cheek almost pressed up against the glass. 

He whispered, “But I can give you a book as well.”

The light in the staircase went out. 

“What kind of book?” the oval whispered.

“The consoling kind.”

“I need to cry some more. I’ll drown if I don’t. Can you understand that?” 

“Of course. Sometimes you’re swimming in unwept tears and you’ll go under if you store them up inside.” And I’m at the bottom of a sea of tears. “I’ll bring you a book for crying then.” 

“When?”

“Tomorrow. Promise me you’ll have something to eat and drink before you carry on crying.”

He didn’t know why he was taking such liberties. It must be something to do with the door between them. “

Also in residence in the French apartment building is young author Max Jordan. His breakout hit Night is the stuff that cult classics are made of, and his following is full of an intense group of fans who harass and follow Jordan day and night. He never expected to become a bestselling author, certainly not with his book full of the desperate moves a young man will make as he tries to navigate the murky waters of women and love. As a result, Max is withdrawn and uncomfortable in his own skin, living as a recluse at the Rue Montegnard, trapped in a slump of writer’s block that is too difficult to even begin to climb over.

When Catherine, the mystery woman behind the door, tentatively approaches Perdu with a letter she found in the castoff kitchen table he left outside of her apartment (he had no use for it and she had no furniture, having been unceremoniously turned out by her swine of a husband), he is shocked. The woman who broke his heart years earlier had left him that letter as her final parting gift, and he had refused to read it, stuffing it away inside the old kitchen table and willfully forgetting about it — spending the rest of his life up until this moment trying to forget about the woman as well.

” He could be a stone in the mosaic of her life, he thought at the time. A beautiful, sparkling one, but a stone all the same, not the whole picture. He wanted to do the same for her. 

Manon. The vibrant, never-dainty, never-perfect girl from Provence, who spoke with words that he felt he could grasp with his hands. She never planned; she was always entirely present. She didn’t talk about dessert during the main course, about the coming morning as she was falling asleep, about meeting again when saying good-bye. She was always in the now. 

That August night 7,216 nights ago was the last time Perdu slept well; and when he woke up, Manon was gone. 

He hadn’t seen it coming. He had thought it over again and again, had sifted through Manon’s gestures and looks and words — but had found no possible clue that could have told him she was already leaving. 

And wouldn’t come back. 

Instead, a few weeks later, her letter.

This letter. 

He had left the envelope on the table for two nights. He had gazed at it as he ate alone, drank alone, smoked alone. And as he wept. 

Tear after tear had run down his cheeks and dripped onto the table and the paper. 

He hadn’t opened the letter. “

What Perdu finds in the letter is not what he’d expected. It is, in fact, the opposite. He finds a few answers, but discovers he has even more questions. He fearfully tries to connect with Catherine on a heartfelt level, but finds himself clumsy and out of practice. Catherine is in the midst of inner turmoil and grief, and Perdu knows that now is not the right time for either of them — their current states are far too vulnerable for any intimacy to be of worth.

And so he decides it is time for him to stop allowing his life to live him and for him to instead, live his life. When Perdu spontaneously decides to set sail on his barge down the Seine in search of the conclusion to his love-story with Manon, he is surprised to find Max Jordan has resolved to come along for the ride. Max is an unlikely companion with his awkward style, but Perdu soon finds he has a soft spot for the boy. He allows Max to accompany him on his quest for closure, and their adventure down the river puts them in the path of several other bright characters — some who add to the bold liveliness  of their journey and some who subsequently join them for adventures of their own.

Readers learn of Manon’s story through snapshots of her personal journals, finding out exactly why she left Perdu and her feelings for him. Monsuier Perdu eventually reaches his destination, although it is not quite the destination he intended when he set sail. He comes full circle and gains more than just closure along the way, cleansing his palate of the past and commencing upon a path of complete rebirth and emotional metamorphosis.

” In the afternoons, when the heat rose to dangerous levels, Perdu would lie motionless  on his bed in nothing but a pair of shorts, with wet towels on his forehead, chest and feet.  The terrace door was open, and the curtains swayed listlessly in the breeze. He let the warm wind caress his body as he dozed. 

It was good to be back in his body. To feel that his flesh was sensitive and alive again. Not numb, limp, unused — an adversary. Perdu had got used to thinking with his body, as though he could stroll around inside his soul and peer into every room. 

Yes, the grief lived on in his chest. When it came, it constricted his lungs, cut off his breathing and the universe faded to a narrow sliver. But he wasn’t scared of it anymore. When it came, he let it flow through him.

Fear occupied his throat too, but it took up less space if he breathed out slowly and calmly. With every breath he could make the fear smaller and crumple it up, and he imagined throwing it to Psst so that the cat could toy with the ball of anxiety and chase it out of the house. 

Joy danced in his solar plexus, and he let it dance. He thought of Samy and Cuneo, and of Max’s hilarious letters, in which one name cropped up more and more frequently. Vic. The tractor girl. In his mind he saw Max running around the Luberon after a wine-red tractor, and he couldn’t help laughing. 

Amazingly, love had settled on Jean’s tongue. “

The Little Paris Bookshop is not a romance, although there is some romance involved. It is instead a story of a man’s path to finding himself and doing it with a quiet, honest, and slow integrity that is very admirable. I found this book to be very sweet and heartfelt, and I really enjoyed the different characters that showed up along the way. They were written in such a vibrancy that made it very easy to picture them in my mind’s eye. I wanted to give Monsieur Perdu a big hug. He spent so much time taking care of others and their feelings that he forgot about his own healing.

This is not a heavy read and although it weighs in at 370 pages, it is not difficult to get through. It is a definite feel-good book and I was surprised to find it coming from an author who is known more for her science thrillers than her sentimentality. I would have enjoyed a bit more depth in Max’s character, as I found him particularly interesting. His story started off very strong and the author seemed to lose interest in him, which I felt was a shame.

I am rating The Little Paris Bookshop  4 out of 5 stars and I would recommend it for any reader 18+, due to a couple of scenes featuring suggestive sexual content.

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Review: Dark Places

Dark Places

by Gillian Flynn

“I was not a lovable child, and I’d grown into a deeply unlovable adult. Draw a picture of my soul, and it’d be a scribble with fangs.”

Gillian Flynn is best known for her astoundingly successful thriller, Gone Girl – the story of a not-so-good guy who is being investigated in the disappearance of his wife, the twist being that the wife is actually still alive and enjoying herself by putting her cheating husband through the ringer in a most complex act of deception and punishment. Viewers flocked to the theatre in droves when the movie, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, premiered. It received positive critical response both in novel and film form, and catapulted Gillian Flynn’s career to another level. Gone Girl is the third novel by the author and all three have been critically acclaimed.

Dark Places is in short, the story of the grown-up Libby Day, the only member of her family to survive a mass killing spree –  the exception being  her big brother Ben, who is incarcerated after being found guilty of the murders.

Libby was just a kid when her family were brutally slaughtered in her childhood home – a gun was involved, as was a bit of strangling and some serious business with an axe – and 24 years later, she’s still not dealing with it. She hasn’t worked a day in her life, living off the charity of others, and reality is beginning to hit home as her money is finally running out. She’s haunted by that night as any one would be, and memories creep in and out of her psyche as she struggles to sludge her way through a mundane life. She left the town of Kinnakee, Kansas behind in a cloud of Satanic cults and morbid ministrations, all of which her brother has been accused of.

” I passed a field of cows, standing immobile, and thought about growing up, all the rumors of cattle mutilation, and people swearing it was the Devil worshipers. The Devil lurked nearby in our Kansas town, an evil that was as natural and physical as a hillside. Our church hadn’t been too brimstoney, but the preacher had certainly nurtured the idea: The Devil, goat-eyed and bloody, could take over your heart just as easily as Jesus, if you weren’t careful. In every town I lived in, there were always the “Devil kids,” and the “Devil houses,” just like there was always a killer clown driving around in a white van. Everyone knew of some old, vacant warehouse on the edge of town where a stained mattress sat on the floor, bloody from sacrifice. Everyone had a friend of a cousin who had actually seen a sacrifice but was too scared to give details. “

When Libby is approached by a twenty-something kid named Lyle who promises her money in exchange for chats about her past, she’s tempted. Her anxiety and general laziness doesn’t make working a real job a viable option and the thought of being able to sell some old, doodled-up notebooks and letters from her dead family members for quick cash  is appealing. Lyle is quickly keen on getting Libby reveal and learn more information about that fateful night and when he senses her trepidation, he proposes a meeting with an organization he is affiliated with – The Kill Club.

Deep in the bowels of an abandoned warehouse, Libby is introduced to the members of the Day Chapter of the Kill Club, a group of mismatched misfits and conspiracy theorists, all of whom are convinced that Ben had nothing to do with the murders. They seem to know more details about that night even than Libby and are not as happy to meet her as she thought they would be. Libby’s testimony helped put away her big brother, testimony that many of the members believe was falsified and coerced. Lyle suggests Libby try and gather information from people involved with her family at the time of the murders, like her deadbeat and transient father or a guy named Trey, who used to hang around with her brother. But the most important interview they want Libby to conduct is that with her brother, Ben Day.

” Those “Day enthusiasts,” those “solvers” would pay for more than just old letters. Hadn’t they asked me where Runner was, and which of Ben’s friends I might still know? They’d pay for information that only I could get. Those jokers who memorized the floor plans to my house, who packed folders full of crime-scene photos, all had their own theories about who killed the Days. Being freaks, they’d have a tough time getting anyone to talk to them. Being me, I could do that for them. The police would humor poor little me, a lot of the suspects even. I could talk to my dad, if that’s what they really wanted, if I could find him. 

Not that it would necessarily lead to anything. At home under my bright hamster-y lights, safe again, I reminded myself that Ben was guilty (had to be had to be), mainly because I couldn’t handle any other possibility. Not if I was going to function, and for the first time in twenty-four years, I needed to function. I started doing the math in my head: $500, say, to talk to the cops; $400 to talk to some of Ben’s friends; $1,000 to track down Runner; $2,000 to talk to Runner. I’m sure the fans had a whole list of people I could cajole into giving Orphan Day some of their time. I could drag this out for months. 

I fell asleep, the rum bottle still in my hand, reassuring myself: Ben Day is a killer. “

Although ecstatic to see baby sister after 24 years behind bars, Ben is reluctant to give Libby any more information than what is currently on record, and Libby finds herself curious for the first time since the murders. Questions begin to swim in her mind about things she had once taken as fact – was her brother really part of a Satanic cult? Was he really a child molester as little Krissi Cates had accused? Who is Diondra? Did he really act alone? Aided by the motivation of fast cash and a nagging feeling in the pit of her gut, Libby is on a quest to find out the truth even if it means revisiting the dark places she’s locked away in the back of her mind.

” “Never mind,” I said, removing the phone from my ear so he knew I was leaving. 

“Libby, hold on, hold on.”

“No, if you’re going to work me like some. . . convict, I don’t see the point.”

“Libby, hold the hell up. I’m sorry I can’t give you the answer I guess you want.” 

“I just want the truth.”

“And I just want to tell you the truth, but you seem to want. . . a story. I just, I mean Christ, here comes my little sister after all these years and I think, well, here might be one good thing. One good thing. Sh sure as hell wasn’t helpful twenty-four goddam years ago, but, hey, I’m over that., I’m so over that the first time I see her, all I am is happy. I mean there I was in my fucking animal pen, waiting to see you, so nervous like I was going on a date, and I see you and, jeez, it’s like, maybe this one thing will be OK. Maybe I can have one person from my family still in my life and I won’t be so fucking lonely, because — and I mean, I know you talked to Magda, believe me I heard all about that, and so year I have people who visit me and care about me, but they’re not you, they’re not anyone who knows me except as the guy with the. . . and I was just thinking it’d be so goddam nice to be able to talk with my sister, who knows me, who knows our family, and knows that we were just, like, normal, and we can laugh about goddam cows. That’s it, you know, that’s all I’m asking for at this point. Just something as tiny as that. And so I wish I could tell you something that won’t make you.  . . hate me again.” He dropped his eyes, looking at the reflection of his chest in the glass. “But I can’t.” “

Dark Places tells its story via the perspective of teenage Ben, his mother Patty Day, and grown-up sister Libby. Having something to hide is an understatement when it comes to the angsty and hormonal Ben, and Patty is overwhelmed with the impending loss of her family farm and struggling with the raising of four young children all on her own. Through their words readers learn the truth of the night in question and will be shocked to find out what really happened, in true Gillian Flynn style.

While Flynn is known for her plot twists and dangerous turns as her novels progress, she is also known for surprise endings. Most avid thriller readers find their fun in figuring out the mystery before the literary super sleuth does, but Flynn makes that task difficult as she is very good at keeping things close to the vest. Dark Places is no exception, but unlike Gone Girl, I was very disappointed in the last minute plot twist and found it did not make any sense to the entirety of the story. I had one part of the mystery figured out and was still surprised by the exact how’s and when’s, but the definitive shock factor at the end was out of place and unnecessary – not to mention I found it completely unbelievable after reading testimony from the different perspectives as I had.

Just for that ending, I give Dark Places 3.5 out of 5 stars. She had me at a solid 4.5 stars until that ending. I swear, I was going to give it to her but Gillian Flynn really let me down. To say it was a WTF moment would be an understatement. I found the actual storyline of Dark Places to be superior to Gone Girl until the end, which really made it a disappointment, considering the bang Gone Girl ended with.

Dark Places has been made into a feature film starring the incomparable Charlize Theron. You can find it on Amazon Prime.

 

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Recommendation: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches

by Deborah Harkness

” It begins with absence and desire. 

It begins with blood and fear. 

It begins with a discovery of witches. “

I usually seem to have the luck to stumble upon serial books at the end,  when all of the books in the set have been published and are in readily available circulation. I cannot imagine having started and fallen in love with a book only to realize that it’s part of a series that will take years and years to come into fruition (uh, hello – Game of Thrones?). I don’t like to wait. I’ve always been extremely impatient. So as a general rule, I try not to begin a series unless all of the books are out or unless there are at least 80% of the series already in publication. My memory is very poor when it comes to books and television shows and so I like to devour a story in it’s entirety before moving along to the next. This is why Netflix is probably my favorite thing ever – tons of shows with ENTIRE seasons means I don’t have to wait (and inevitably forget) week by week to see what happens to characters I am invested in.

So again, I was lucky when I came across what is commonly referred to as The All Souls Trilogy, a set of three books written by a newcomer to the mainstream literary scene – the enigmatic and old-worldly poised Deborah Harkness. After spending a year immersing myself the acclaimed Outlander series by well-educated Diana Gabaldon, I had become familiar with her intelligent style of writing and with the academically detailed way in which she writes. When a writer is educated and an intellectual, they can at times approach their writing in a way that can be cumbersome to read.  Because the majority of readers do not have time to really sit with a book and also due to modern-day society’s predilection to  churning things out and turning things over as quickly as possible so they can be on to the next, heavier books are not read as often as their shorter, less verbose counterparts.  It’s not necessarily the story subject but more the detail and sentence structure that can make it decidedly more difficult for the average reader to get through. Gabaldon, in my opinion, writes heavier books that can take a bit of a moment to get used to, and I was thankful to have spent that year with her before transitioning into the All Souls Trilogy because Harkness writes in a very similar style.

Deborah Harkness is most definitely a scholar, her academic resume boasting honored degrees from Mount Holyoke College and Northwestern, as well as a Ph.D. from the University of California where she is a professor of history.  She is highly regarded in the world of histrionic knowledge and literacy, having based her educational career on becoming a historian of both science and medicine, delving into the world of nature and magic. She is a well-versed authority in the world of alchemy, the occult, and their counterparts. Harkness spent time deep in the libraries at Oxford, researching and expanding upon her favored path, and as such, her debut fiction novel A Discovery of Witches, reads like an entertaining textbook of the science surrounding the supernatural world of witches, vampires, daemons, and magic in general.

And so the story begins.

When Diana Bishop calls up a manuscript during her research as an alchemical history professor at Oxford, she unknowingly pulls a book that holds the secrets of life – an elusive book that has been missing for centuries. In doing so, Diana evokes a song in her blood that reaches out to the otherworldly creatures around her, drawing them closer to her than she ever would have preferred. Witches aren’t supposed to mix with daemons, and certainly not with vampires – but the underground supernatural society around her won’t leave her alone until she concedes to call the book again -the mystical, and thought lost, Ashmole 782 – so that they may procure the secrets of their creation and purpose.

One of the creatures drawn to the professor is Matthew Clairmont, an ages old vampire who spends his days working as an distinguished and notable geneticist and his weekends unwinding with serious bouts of yoga and the finest wines to be found around. He is a slow-burning mystery with a serious penchant for Darwinism and is drawn to the secrets of the book from a scientific standpoint. He is as curious about Ashmole 782 as he is Diana, surprising himself as he begins to ignore the taboo that is the  vampire-witch relationship. He allows her to bewitch him, her unassuming feminine wiles taking the place of the emotional barrier that he’d originally intended to have. Matthew’s arrival into the attractive historian’s world begins to complicate things to an extreme degree,  not the least of which is that any relationship between them is strictly forbidden and unfortunately for them, the attraction only intensifies.

” In front of the fireplace, drinks in hand, Hamish could at last press his way into the heart of the mystery. “Tell me about this manuscript of Diana’s, Matthew. It contains what, exactly? The recipe for the philosopher’s stone that turns lead into gold?” Hamish’s voice was lightly mocking. “Instructions on how to concoct the elixir of life so you can transform mortal into immortal flesh?” 

The daemon stopped his teasing the instant Matthew’s eyes rose to meet his. 

“You arent’ serious,” Hamish whispered, his voice shocked. The philosopher’s stone was just a legend, like the Holy Grail or Atlantis. It couldn’t possibly be real. Belatedly, he realized that vampires, daemons, and withes weren’t supposed to be real either. 

“Do I look like I’m joking?” Matthew asked. 

“No.” The daemon shuddered. Matthew had always been convinced that he could use his scientific skills to figure out what made vampires resistant to death and decay. The philosopher’s stone fit neatly into those dreams. 

“It’s the lost book,” Matthew said grimly. “I know it.”

Like most creatures, Hamish had heard the stories. One version suggested the witches had stolen a precious book from the vampires, a book that held the secret of immortality. Another claimed the vampires had snatched an ancient spell book from the witches and then lost it. Some whispered that it was not a spell book at all, but a primer covering the basic traits of all four humanoid species on earth. “

Diana has done her best to deny the witch inside of her, pushing her illustrious lineage to the side and putting science and the foundation of her education in its place instead. But by calling that book, she has inadvertently set herself on a path that is irrevocable. She is the progeny of a powerful witch and an even more powerful warlock, the union of which has been strongly discouraged ever since due to the combination of powers her parents had that resulted in just. . . too much magic.

When Diana finds herself unable to call the book again, she and Clairmont begin a quest for the truth about the book, its origins,  and its properties. The situation  proving to be more dangerous than they originally bet on as more and more supernatural beings find out that she has access to the long-lost book. Some of these beings are willing to kill for the chance to Ashmole 782’s secrets, forcing a protective Matthew to spirit Diana away into modern-day France for her safety,  where she is immersed into the lives of his ancient vampire family. Much to their digress, his vampiric kin can see that Matthew is falling in love with Diana, becoming rapt by her spellbinding intelligence and the witch’s song in her blood.

” “I needed to get away from a witch.” 

Hamish watched his friend for a moment, noting Matthew’s obvious agitation. Somehow Hamish was certain the witch wasn’t male. 

“What makes this witch so special?” he asked quietly.

Matthew looked up from  under his heavy brows. “Everything.” 

“Oh. You are in trouble, aren’t you?” Hamish’s burr deepened in sympathy and amusement. 

Matthew laughed unpleasantly. “You could say that, yes.” 

“Does this witch have a name?” 

“Diana. She’s a historian. And American.”

“The goddess of the hunt,” Hamish said slowly. “Apart from her ancient name, is she an ordinary witch?”

“No,” Matthew said abruptly. “She’s far from ordinary.” 

“Ah. The complications.” Hamish studied his friend’s face for signs that he was calming down but saw that Mathew was spoiling for a fight instead. 

“She’s a Bishop.” Matthew waited. He’d learned it was never a good idea to anticipate that the daemon wouldn’t grasp the significance of a reference, no matter how obscure. 

Hamish sifted and sorted through his mind and found what he was seeking. “As in Salem, Massachusetts?”

Matthew nodded grimly. “She’s the last of the Bishop witches. Her father is a Proctor.” 

The daemon whistled softly. “A witch twice over, with a distinguished magical lineage. You never do things by half, do you? She must be powerful.” “

When the pair returns to Diana’s childhood home and her own family, Aunt Sarah and her partner Em, she discovers more about her parents and the secrets that they fervently held under lock and key until their dying breaths. What Diana grew up believing about her parents comes into question and confusion, forcing her to answer the call to her lineage and supernatural race. When she is given an inheritance of one of her parent’s must treasured secrets, a page from Ashmole 782 itself, she must begins the quest for answers. Diana, along with a faithful Matthew by her side, make plans to strike out to search for Ashmole 782 through the ages of ancient history and culture, hoping to discover and analyze the mysterious book’s birth.

” Matthew bent and picked up the dropped sheet of stationery. ” ‘My darling Diana,” he read aloud. “Today you are seven — a magical age for a witch, when your powers should begin to stir and take shape. But your powers have been stirring since you were born. You have always been different.’ “

My knees shifted under the image’s uncanny weight. 

” ‘That you are reading this means that your father and I succeeded. We were able to convince the Congregation that it was your father — and not you — whose power they sought. You mustn’t blame yourself. It was the only decision we could possibly make. We trust that you are old enough now to understand.’ “

Matthew gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze before continuing. ”  

A Discovery of Witches is full of the scientific mystique of alchemy and the better known properties of magical lore and the supernatural. The pace can at times seem a little slow but in retrospect, it is simply because the author is building you up with character analysis and introducing you to the subject matters that will become important as you reach the second and third books in the trilogy.  A television show based upon the books is currently in the works, with filming set to commence in the summer of 2017. Harkness is in the midst of writing a book called The Serpent’s Mirror that is centered around Matthew during the Tudor era. It’s estimated publication is in 2017. A detailed guide and companion book is also in the works for fans of the series.

Harkness is also involved in a convention called All Soul’s Con, where historians and fans can come together to explore the world of magic and science for a day of adventure and reading. This year’s convention is scheduled for Saturday, September 23 in the charismatic city and vampiric Mecca of New Orleans.

I give A Discovery of Witches 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to readers who have a bit of time to sit down with a novel and the patience to allow a story to bloom slowly. the last quarter of the book moves very fast and the other two books in the trilogy also move in speedy plot changes as the duo hops from one time period to another on their magical quest. Readers who enjoy time travel, subtle romance, and strong female leads will enjoy this book.

Don’t forget to pick the other two up in this series if you enjoy the first. They read as follows: