Books! TransAtlantic #cbr5

Writing about the books I love the most is difficult. I feel like I can’t convey the way it made 16085517me feel to read such an amazing book. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann is definitely one of those. Although I loved Bring up the Bodies I think this is by far my favorite novel of 2013.

To be honest I am not one of those readers who can sit and read a book all day, who stays up all night trying to get through one more chapter, and one more. I read in short spurts because my mind wanders and my body gets restless. But McCann’s novel grabbed onto my pathetic attention span and wouldn’t let go. I stayed up late reading from sheer enjoyment for the first time in ages.

The beauty and economy of his language grab you first. He can say in 10 words what I would say in 60. Plus his language is gorgeous and I couldn’t stop reading it. It flows like a poem with every word chosen for its perfection.

The characters are the second highlight. In a sense this is historical fiction because his four main characters in the first half of the book are prominent figures–George Mitchell (diplomat of the Good Friday Accords), Frederick Douglass, Alcock and Brown (pilots of the first non-stop Transatlantic flight)–but it is amazing how human he makes them. George Mitchell was especially an accomplishment considering he is still alive and able to tell his own stories. The second half of the book focuses on a fabulous family of women whose lives touched and intersected with these famous men.

Finally there is the story. He is describing the crossings and connections in our lives, in terms of our transatlantic heritage (huge academic buzz word nowadays), but also how individuals influence and impact each other. While at times it seems he stretching a bit to make these lives intertwine, I liked the people and wanted to know what would happen so much that I was willing to go along. The last chapter in particular felt a bit slow because he is trying to set up a new crossing, but by then I was willing to let him take me wherever.

This is my favorite book of 2013 so far. I’ve been recommending it to everyone. Worth the read and it is not a trilogy.

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Books! Every book is a trilogy #cbr5

I seem to start every Cannonball Read review with an apology or a lament. I have yet to hit 52 books and 2013 is looking no different. But the year isn’t over yet!

A while back I finished Fuse by Julianna Baggott, #2 in the excellent Pure series. The story is set in a post-

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apocalyptic world in which a series of large explosions destroy much of the earth and leave it a wasteland. A select few escaped to a sterile world in a dome (think Logan’s Run). Those who survived the explosions became disfigured (many of them fusing with their surroundings or nearby objects/creatures) and had to learn to live in the harsh new world.

My favorite part of Baggott’s writing is her world and creature creation. The fusings of man and surroundings are quite surreal and fun to imagine. The main character’s hand, for instance, is fused with the doll she was holding at the time of the explosions. Her love interest was outside near a flock of birds and has several birds fused to his back. While it sounds grotesque, Baggott describes these beautifully but leaves room for the reader to imagine the exact look of the world. I expect that the series will be made into a movie(s) and I can’t wait to see how this world is realized.

If I have any criticism, it is only that I wish this wasn’t a trilogy. I hate waiting for each installment. When I started Fuse I had some difficulty getting into it because I couldn’t remember what had happened in the first book, Pure. I know this is the new trend of publishing and sometimes it can be a good thing–the story is much more developed and intricate in this case– but sometimes it is just an excuse for bad editing (or not editing as in The Discovery of Witches). While Baggott does not fall into that last category, as a reader you sometimes just want a good story that ends.

To close, this is a beautiful series. If you like post-apocalyptic sci-fi, this is a great addition, but it is also a solid story with engaging characters. If you are impatient like me, wait until next year and read them all at once. You won’t regret it.

Books! Wanted a duck and got a swan #cbr4

The first Peter Carey novel I ever read ended up thrown against the wall in anger. That was Oscar and Lucinda. Actually it is the only book I’ve ever thrown against the wall. Not because it was bad, but because I cared so much for the characters. Funny then that the main character of his new novel, a woman name Catherine Gehrig, does the same with a nineteenth century manuscript. Unfortunately Catherine is not nearly as endearing as Oscar or Lucinda, but I was willing to overlook her faults considering the circumstances.

The Chemistry of Tears opens with the death of Catherine’s married lover, Matthew, and we watch as she mourns, cries, and generally self-destructs, which leads to the incident with the manuscript. She works as a conservator at the Swinburne museum and to assist with her healing, her boss gives her a new project, the re-creation of an automaton (we later find out a swan). Starting the project she unpacks the notebooks of Henry Brandling, the patron who commissioned a robot duck from some shady characters in the German Black Forest. In reading these notebooks, even after stealing them from the museum, Catherine begins the process of healing and recovery … for the most part.

I’ve read several of Carey’s books and this was definitely the most difficult to finish. Catherine’s actions in her grief and self-pity are sometimes distasteful. In addition Henry’s story is a bit convoluted and confusing. I had to re-read several passages to make sure I understood the plot. Overall Carey’s themes of the constitutive elements of life and death and the lingering impact of the Industrial Revolution give the novel its heart. The quote below is one of the most beautiful paragraphs in the book as it describes this imitation of life:

“Every eerie moment was smooth as a living thing, a snake, an eel, a swan of course. We stood in awe and, no matter how many hundred hours we had worked on it, this swan was never, not for a moment, familiar, but uncanny, sinuous, lithe, supple, winding, graceful. As it twisted to look into one’s eyes, its own stayed darkest ebony until, at that point when the sun caught the black wood, they blazed. It had no sense of touch. It had no brain. It was as glorious as God.”

We imagine this imitation of life while in the background is the indescribable horror of the Gulf oil spill that Catherine’s assistant watches unceasingly on a webcam. If the book has a failing it is that Carey is trying to do too much, prove too much, so that some of the story becomes muddled and confused. But then again, is that an imitation of life?

If you are using Nancy Pearl’s Rule of Four to find a new book (which I just read today), Carey’s doorway is most certainly language with plot, characters, and setting mixed somewhere in there.  It is a beautiful book, but it may take some dedication and perseverance. Good qualities in a conservator.

In the Shadows of the Greats #cbr4

Oh Cannonball Read I haven’t been keeping up with you. I’ve barely been able to read these two months. I finished The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl a while back and just finished The Poe Shadow today. Pearl’s The Last Dickens was one of my favorites of 2011, and I was able to hear him speak on our campus in March, so I decided to give these two a go. I loved The Dante Club. The Poe Shadow, discussed in the next post, was not a fave

Both are mystery novels at their hearts dressed up in Literature. The Dante Club follows four literary friends, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and J.T. Fields, who with the assistance of a detective named Nicholas Rey try to solve murders that echo the descriptions in Dante’s Inferno. Because they are assisting Longfellow with his translation of the Inferno, they are very aware of how the murders match up to Dante’s depictions of hell.

On the Goodreads page I found it humorous how many people complained about the grisliness of the murders when 1) It is a murder mystery. Patricia Cornwell and her ilk get much worse, and 2) It is hell that is being depicted.

If you get squeamish over a few maggots in your mystery, this book is not for you. Overall the murders themselves were depicted well especially considering Pearl was trying to make imitations of Dante’s hell into believable murders.

The characters are the strongest part of the book. The story can be slow at time, but I was drawn in by the individual stories of the four men, particularly Oliver Wendell Holmes. His character has a vulnerability that is endearing. By the end I found myself caring if he died or not. It was also fun to see more of J. T. Fields (who makes an appearance in The Last Dickens). Longfellow is the only character who remains a bit aloof, but this may have been Pearl’s intention. I can only imagine that the one ultra famous character would be difficult to make flesh and blood.

This was definitely one of my favorite books so far in 2012. If you like mysteries with a twist of history, this is a great one to pick up.