Monday, April 14, 2014


Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer is the first of his Southern Reach trilogy.  It tells of the story of Area X which has been cut off from the world for many years. The reason is unclear. Either no one know why or most likely the government is not saying. Not many people know it is there. Several expeditions have been sent to the area, but have never returned or those who do return are former shells of themselves.  The twelfth expedition consists of four women only known by their occupations.  The biologist, the psychologist, the anthropologist and the surveyor.  The linguist was scheduled to go, but for unknown reasons dropped out.  The psychologist is in charge, but the story is told by the biologist who volunteered to go and we don't know why until about the middle of the book.  They do not know each others names. They are supposed to map part of the area and then return.  Knowing that other expeditions have failed, racks up the tension immediately.
Jeff writes in a very descriptive and atmospheric style.  You feel as though you are there hearing the nighttime moaning and seeing the eerie signs of previous human habitation.  Instruments are useless. The crew distrust each other immediately and it is discovered that the psychologist is able to hypnotize them in order to change their thinking.  What other secrets are they keeping from each other?  Does anyone survive?
The tower which is the first building they explore was not on any maps they brought with them or maps which were found when they first entered the site.  The tower has its own secrets. What they find in the tower will change the life of the biologist forever. And who or what is the Crawler?  What is the purpose of the spores released by the Tower?  As the biologist says "I am aware that all this speculation is incomplete, inexact, inaccurate and useless.  If I don't have real answers, it is because we still don't know what questions to ask."  I am glad this book was divided into three parts.  Even though it is a page turner, there is a lot to digest.  The second and third part of the trilogy is coming out this summer.

The Spinning Heart

Donal Ryan's slim little book packs a powerful punch. Winner of Ireland's Newcomer of the Year and Book of the Year, and the Guardian's First Book Prize, this debut novel shows us an Ireland that is suffering in the late 2000s economic climate in which jobs and hope for the future are hard to find. Each chapter is narrated by a different character from the same small Irish town. Through all these separate eyes, a complete story comes to light--a bleak story of poverty, alcoholism, desperation, and sometimes love. You may think you don't want to read about such a sad state of affairs, but The Spinning Heart is so beautifully written and poetic. Reading about the struggles of these Irish families makes you feel compassion for their plight. Actions that from the outside might seem senseless and irrational become understandable--not condoned, but understandable. This is a bird's-eye study of human nature and how people struggle to make their place in the world. We could all learn from it.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Starting Over by Elizabeth Spencer

Author Elizabeth Spencer is starting again if not starting over with her book of short stories.  She has written several novels and short stories beginning in 1948, but Starting Over is her first work in over ten years.  Lee Smith comments on Spencer's short stories as "...light as air; they hover in the mind like hummingbirds."
In "Boy in the Tree", Wallace is torn between his mother and his wife. Mother is determined to remain independent in spite of living away from town, her aging issues, and her supposedly seeing things that are not there.  Wallace's wife believes Mother "has gone around the bend" and should be in a retirement community.
Wallace remembers fondly his mother's strengths and love while apparently experiencing her weakness of seeing things that can't be there.
In "Everlasting Light" a father is somewhat embarrassed to adore his daughter just the way she is.
In "Christmas Longings" Sonia remembers the magic of a family Christmas time of forty years before.  Her husband tries to convince her that her memories are exaggerated.
Spencer's Starting Over gives a glimpse into family life with its trials and its fits and starts.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Power Play is a story of two very successful and powerful CEO's of industry whose lives are a lot alike, at the same time very difference.
Ambition, trust and morality brilliantly told.  Fiona Carson and Marshall
Weston are ambitious, brilliant, committed, shrewd, hardworking and successful.  They are both leaders in their own rights.  In a way, both are broken and searching for happiness.

However, one is a woman and the other is a man.   One is based in Palo Alto and the other is based out of San Francisco.   Forty-nine year old Fiona Carson is divorced and the mother of two college age students.  She is committed to her job as a CEO of a tech company as much as she is committed to her children.  On the other hand,  Marshall Weston leads a double life.   One of them involves a mistress who is thirty years old.  She lives with their twin daughters in Malbu.  His legal wife Liz lives with their three children in Marin.  A chain of events set off by Marshall Weston's uninhibited lifestyle threatens to reveal and destroy everything.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A fascinating, first-hand account of slavery

12 Years A Slave; A True Story of Betrayal, Kidnap and Slavery, written by Solomon Northrup, a black man who was born free and who, in 1841, was ‘tricked’ into slavery, ripped away from his family and his life. This is a fascinating account of his experience as a slave after being drugged, kidnapped, sold and taken to the swamps of Louisiana to live in deplorable conditions and suffer inhumane treatment. Numerous accounts have been written on the subject of slavery, (fiction and non) but what is unique in this particular story is the first hand perspective. Northrup describes (in graphic detail) the floggings he took and the ones he was forced to give to  his fellow slaves. He gives accounts of the meager food rations and how, by his own devices, he was able to trap fish, raccoon and opossum and prepare them without the use of utensils or pots. He offers up vivid descriptions of the processes used in picking cotton and cutting sugar cane.  Through his words, the reader can vividly imagine the back breaking labor, the pain of sleeping on a splintered slab of wood, and the oppressive feeling of being watched over every minute of daylight.
Near the end of his book, Northrup aptly sums up his story in this way: “I can speak of slavery only so far as it came under my own observation – only so far as I have known and experienced it in my own person. My object is to give a candid and truthful statement of facts: to repeat the story of my life, without exaggeration, leaving it for others to determine, whether even the pages of fiction present a picture of more cruel wrong or a severer bondage.”

This is a haunting tale and one that will stay with me for some time.