Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

In a mid-life crisis meltdown mode (after not quite shooting her philandering husband), Portia Kane returns to her childhood home to figure out her next step - little knowing it will lead her on an epic journey of discovery and disappointment.

Author Matthew Quick has become famous for his fair, honest depiction of human frailties and mental disorder, and this novel is well within that wheelhouse. Every character in the book has his or her issues, but they're not presented as a problem to be solved, just a thing to be experienced.

Portia's quest to "save" her beloved high school English teacher leads her down nostalgia's path in many ways, and the book is full of 1980s-vintage metal and hard rock lyrics, puns, and references. It's also full of strange coincidences, chance meetings, and what may be divine inspiration.

My only quibble is that I found the character Danielle Bass flat. She's a means to move the story along, but I don't feel that we really get her perspective or struggles in any real way like we do every other character in the novel.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family by Constance Novis and Helen Fester

Books by the Dorling Kindersley (DK) company are always rich with photos and illustration with text broken into digestible bits - and this book is a stellar example of the style they do so well. It's a coffee table style book with 250 pages packed with information and vivid photography.

I learned a ton about European history and even more about the 20th-century monarchs and world events; I was fascinated with the progression of the monarchy from Queen Victoria to the current Queen Elizabeth and into the future with the line of succession.

I also liked that scandal isn't swept under the rug - it's mentioned, but not dwelt upon. The modern royals have endured a lot of media scrutiny through infidelities, divorces, youthful indiscretions, and momentary lapse of judgement and those are presented without judgement.

I spent a lot of time hopping away from the book and online to learn more about someone or something. It's re-fired an interest in history and a desire to read more.

I had this book checked out so long the library's automated system started threatening me with the replacement cost of $54 if I didn't return it. It's a phenomenal book, but certainly a lot to wade through.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

And Again by Jessica Chiarella

Four end-life patients participate in a clinical trial to transplant part of their brain and all their memories into new, cloned, biologically cleansed versions of their own body.

The point to be made is this: how much of our personality/humanity is in our head and how much is body-centric? Are habits part of your brain or in your muscles? Is love in your limbic system or in your heart?

This was a unique audiobook that utilized four narrators - one for each character. The book is told chronologically, but switches from person to person to give multiple perspectives. Each character struggles with the idea of "self" in their new bodies, and they work through some of their concerns in group-therapy sessions. But each also holds secrets - thoughts or actions they can't even share with these few people who might understand.

It's a fantastic story, mostly about internal struggles of self - the author mercifully leaves the science part rather vague and mostly out of the action. My favorite character is the young painter who can no longer make magic with her hands; when you've defined yourself by a talent, who are you when that's gone? I also enjoyed the way each character weighs out the despoiling of their new body: sex, alcohol, cigarettes, food, tattoos, scars and more.