Bewilderment by Richard Powers

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Description


Theo Byrne is a promising young astrobiologist who has found a way to search for life on other planets dozens of light years away. He is also the widowed father of a most unusual nine-year-old. His son Robin is funny, loving, and filled with plans. He thinks and feels deeply, adores animals, and can spend hours painting elaborate pictures. He is also on the verge of being expelled from third grade, for smashing his friend’s face with a metal thermos.

What can a father do, when the only solution offered to his rare and troubled boy is to put him on psychoactive drugs? What can he say when his boy comes to him wanting an explanation for a world that is clearly in love with its own destruction? The only thing for it is to take the boy to other planets, while all the while fostering his son’s desperate campaign to help save this one.

Quote

‘Watching medicine fail my child, I developed a crackpot theory: Life is something we need to stop correcting. My boy was a pocket universe I could never hope to fathom. Every one of us is an experiment, and we don’t even know what the experiment is testing.’

My thoughts

I’m going to preface my review by saying that The Overstory by Richard Powers was my wow book for 2019, because I think that may have coloured my expectations going into Bewilderment.

When I think of the story from a bit of distance I think it is fantastic. But when I break it down into components I find myself remembering things that were irking me as I read.

The first thing was the use of italics for Robin’s speech without any use of speech marks. This was quite distracting for me for a short while because I was trying to figure out why only Robin’s dialogue was written this way. Was he dead? Was he a figment of Theo’s imagination? Was Theo remembering past conversations with Robin? And so on. Perhaps I read too many mysteries because until it was clarified that Robin existed and this was just a particular writing quirk employed by the author I was busy speculating on the meaning behind it. This feeling of distraction early on interfered with me bonding with Robin’s character, who was actually a sweet, caring, sensitive soul.

[WARNING: THIS WHOLE PARAGRAPH IS A SPOILER!!!] The second thing, which became a huge issue for me, was the discussion of Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes early in the book. Immediately I knew how the book was going to go. I was hoping the author would at the very least keep things ambiguous until near the end if he was going to follow that route, but he didn’t so I missed out on the elements of anticipation and suspense while reading. If I could change one thing about this entire book it would be that Flowers For Algernon had not been mentioned at all. Yes, those who have read that book would have picked up on the similarity – but not until much, much further on in the book.

The above probably makes it sound as though I didn’t enjoy the book. I did. A lot. I think it was quite brilliantly done. Some of the more scientific nitty gritty went over my head, but I didn’t feel that it was information I needed to be able to enjoy or understand what was happening. I could feel Robin’s bewilderment and frustration over the environmental destruction being wrought on the planet, and Theo’s helplessness to provide Robin with the answers he needed and his despair and fear as he fought to retain control over the management of his son’s condition as he thought best.

It was sad and devastating story, but ultimately left me unmoved.

Chasing Alexander: A Marine’s Journey Across Iraq and Afghanistan by Christopher Martin

Chasing Alexander: A Marine's Journey Across Iraq and Afghanistan

Description

A haunting, fast-paced war memoir, Chasing Alexander is Christopher Martin’s account of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A failing college student obsessed with Alexander the Great, Martin enlists in the US Marines to become a different sort of man, a man like Alexander. From his difficulty at boot camp to his disappointing deployment to Iraq, Martin fears he may never follow in Alexander’s footsteps.

Then, after a strategy change, Martin and his unit arrive in Marjah, “the bleeding ulcer” of Afghanistan. There he faces heat, fleas, and a hidden enemy. As the casualties mount, Martin struggles to control his emotions and his newfound sense of power. Chasing Alexander looks unflinchingly at the seductive side of war, and its awful consequences.

My Thoughts

I was drawn to this book firstly because of the reference to Alexander the Great as he is a historical figure whom I have always admired for his tactical skills. The other thing I liked about the sound of the book is that it is the experience a Marine on the ground – a ‘grunt’ – rather than someone at a safe remove from the hardships of daily living and the repercussions of poor decision making.

Martin has a style of writing that is easy and informative without needing to go into great detail. He gets descriptions and messages across economically and effectively. I could very clearly envision boot camp, as well as the compounds and terrain where he was stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the feelings of fatigue, heat, restlessness, adrenaline, power, and fear. He writes of his personal triumphs and failures unflinchingly.

I don’t think it was clear what the passages about Alexander were to correlate with. Whether they were intended at face value because the author’s postings were places that Alexander journeyed to and conquered, or because the author’s initial desire to become a Marine was driven by his admiration of Alexander and he felt he was now following in his footsteps as a warrior to some extent I am not sure. There were other connotations I felt could have applied also, to do with the differences in tactical warfare used by Alexander and the U.S. and those of the enemies they were fighting, but those passages about Alexander were interesting and didn’t interfere with the main narrative.

This is a very interesting read which doesn’t glorify the life of a Marine but is almost like a diary of the author’s tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, giving us a glimpse into the frustrations and daily slog as well as the morale-boosting moments that validated his decision to become a Marine.

I also publish my reviews in the Facebook group The Fiction Cafe Book Club: https://www.facebook.com/groups/FictionCafe

The Story Of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, Melissa Dalton Martinez

Revised, Newly Illustrated Edition

Description

In this first book in the beloved, magical childrens’ series, the origins of the remarkable Doctor Dolittle are revealed!

With 33 all new illustrations of the quirky Doctor and his animal pals…

…this classic story with an updated magical twist, is sure to be a family favorite!

When Doctor John Dolittle’s love of animals scares away his human patients, he finds himself on the verge of bankruptcy. Luckily, his parrot, Polynesia, has a solution—she teaches him to talk to animals.

Using his new skill, Doctor Dolittle becomes a veterinarian, and his reputation soon spreads in the animal kingdom. With it, come requests for help from animals all over the world.

Sailing off with his band of animal companions, Doctor Dolittle seeks to help all he can while facing fierce storms, vicious pirates, angry kings, and more.

Take time with your family today and join Doctor Dolittle for the adventure of a lifetime!

My Thoughts

I have not read the original book on which this version is based, or even seen any of the film adaptations so I don’t have anything to compare this version with. The extent of my knowledge of Doctor Dolittle is that he is a doctor who can talk to animals.
This book is simply written and would be ideal for reading aloud to children. The sentences are simple and the action moves quickly, which I’m sure will keep children interested. Reading what others have said this book changes some of the wording in the original book, written 100 years ago in a different time, and makes it more appropriate for today’s audiences. It also simplifies the story.

This version is a nice tale with lovable characters, both human and animal, and the illustrations are adorable. It would make a nice addition to a child’s bookshelf.

Darkness Falls by Robert Bryndza

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Description

Kate Marshall’s investigation into a journalist’s disappearance sends her down an unexpectedly twisted path in a riveting thriller by the author of Shadow Sands.

Kate Marshall’s fledgling PI agency takes off when she and her partner, Tristan Harper, are hired for their first big case. It’s a cold one. Twelve years before, journalist Joanna Duncan disappeared after exposing a political scandal. Most people have moved on. Joanna’s mother refuses to let go.

When Kate and Tristan gain access to the original case files, they revisit the same suspects and follow the same leads—but not to the same dead ends. Among Joanna’s personal effects, Kate discovers the names of two young men who also vanished without a trace.

As she connects the last days of three missing persons, Kate realizes that Joanna may have been onto something far more sinister than anyone first believed: the identity of a serial killer hiding in plain sight. The closer Kate comes to finding him, the darker it’s going to get.

My Thoughts

This is Book 3 in the Kate Marshall series and she and firmly remain my favourite crime solving duo. Kate and Tristan play off each other nicely with their different perspectives while meshing well as a team.

Kate and Tristan have been approached by a woman whose journalist daughter disappeared without a trace eight years earlier to find out what happened and, more importantly, to find her daughter. The case is very cold but the newly fledged private investigator business is desperate for business so Kate and Tristan take it on. Their search takes them in unexpected directions and the key figures who they come across cause Tristan to do some soul searching, wondering where his life is taking him and what he might be missing out on. Meanwhile Kate’s personal world has been rocked by her mentor’s death, leaving her to find her own way and we find out whether she can remain strong without Myra’s support.

I loved the further character development in this book. It seemed more subtle and yet stronger because of it. In particular I feel as though we got to know Tristan better on a more personal level. I really like the direction this series is going.

The Library by Bella Osbourne

The Library

Description

Two different generations. Two unusual people. Thrown together to save their local library.

Tom is a teenager and blends into the background of life. After a row with his dad, and facing an unhappy future at the dog food factory, he escapes to the library. Tom unwittingly ends up with a bagful of romance novels and comes under the suspicion of Maggie.

Maggie is a pensioner and has been happily alone for ten years, at least that’s what she tells herself. When Tom comes to her rescue a friendship develops that could change her life. As Maggie helps Tom to stand up for himself, Tom helps Maggie realise the mistakes of her past don’t have to define her future.

They each set out to prove that the library isn’t just about books – it’s the heart of their community.

Together they discover some things are worth fighting for.

My Thoughts

This story was an unexpected delight. Tom is a typical angsty teenager with an unhappy home life and Maggie is a confident but lonely seventy-something pensioner. Their paths collide and from there begins an endearing and mutually beneficial friendship. In the background is the fight to save their local library from being closed down, but this definitely took a back stage to the development of Tom’s and Maggie’s friendship.

Highly recommend this. It has a bit more depth than I expected.

Thankfully I chose this book based on the blurb. If I’d seen the ‘clip art’-ish cover first I might not have picked it up.

My reviews are also published in https://www.facebook.com/groups/FictionCafe

The Dollhouse by Sara Ennis

The Dollhouse

Description

Alfred needs Dolls. Blonde, blue-eyed human dolls that will help him rewrite his past and change his future.

When Peter Baden’s daughter Olivia was abducted nearly a year ago, he left his career as a respected journalist to find her. Now he spends his days searching for Olivia, and helping other families of abducted children survive the emotionally and physically exhausting experience of finding a missing child.

Twins Angel and Bud are used to making do. Their dad is in prison, and mom won’t win parenting awards. Bud thrives on neglect, but Angel isn’t so strong.

Now they’re captives in a place called the Dollhouse, and things have gone from bad to worse. The Dolls are forced to re-stage old photographs, but satisfying Alfred is not easy. He has a twisted sense of humor and a violent temper that explodes when things don’t go his way — and sometimes when they do.

Angel knows that if she and the other Dolls are to survive this warped playtime, she can no longer be needy and afraid. She must prove how strong she can be — fast.

There aren’t many photos left ..

My thoughts

This is a rather creepy psychological suspense thriller. The story is mostly told from the perspective of Angel, one of the fourteen year old abductees and this gives the scenes in the Dollhouse a more frightening edge. The rest of the story is told from the POV of the father of a girl who was abducted a year ago and whose mission is to help the parents of other abducted children.

The story and writing style are fast paced so it is a reasonably fast read and it kept me engrossed. There is a good twist and I enjoyed the ending which was a little different and unexpected.

My reviews are also published in https://www.facebook.com/groups/FictionCafe

The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan (translated by Yuri Machkasov)

The Gray House

Description

The Gray House is an astounding tale of how what others understand as liabilities can be leveraged into strengths.

Bound to wheelchairs and dependent on prosthetic limbs, the physically disabled students living in the House are overlooked by the Outsides. Not that it matters to anyone living in the House, a hulking old structure that its residents know is alive. From the corridors and crawl spaces to the classrooms and dorms, the House is full of tribes, tinctures, scared teachers, and laws—all seen and understood through a prismatic array of teenagers’ eyes.

But student deaths and mounting pressure from the Outsides put the time-defying order of the House in danger. As the tribe leaders struggle to maintain power, they defer to the awesome power of the House, attempting to make it through days and nights that pass in ways that clocks and watches cannot record.

Quotes

When words have been spoken they always have a meaning, even if you didn’t mean it when you spoke them.

He opens his palm and all of himself is right there on it, and he just hands that to you. You can’t throw away this naked soul, pretending like you don’t understand what it is you’ve been offered and why. That’s where his power comes from, out of this devastating openness. I’ve never met anyone like that before.

My thoughts

It’s not often a book makes my jaw drop but this one did. I spent the first agonising quarter not having a clue what was happening, and yet I had a premonition that I was reading something special and completely unique.

Once I did begin to see patterns and connections that feeling intensified. And when I reached the end I felt a sense of loss because it was over.

This is a powerful book, with stories within stories, and characters who are intriguing and full of depth. I felt as though I lived in the House with them, and experienced life alongside them. The House is also a character in itself

It took the author 20 years to complete this masterpiece, refining and sharpening and honing, and it shows in the level of detail she brings to life. And then it took the translator two years to faithfully bring it to life in English and he has done an outstanding job.

I can say with almost absolute certainty that it’s going to be my top read for this year. I can honestly say I’ve never read a book like it.

The Women Of Troy by Pat Barker

The Women of Troy

Description

Following her bestselling, critically acclaimed The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker continues her extraordinary retelling of one of our greatest myths.

‘Taut, masterly, wholly absorbing. Still one of the greatest stories ever written. A book that will be read in generations to come’ Daily Telegraph on The Silence of the Girls

Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors, loaded with their spoils: their stolen gold, stolen weapons, stolen women. All they need is a good wind to lift their sails.

But the wind does not come. The gods have been offended – the body of Trojan king Priam lies desecrated, unburied – and so the victors remain in limbo, camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, pacing at the edge of an unobliging sea. And, in these empty, restless days, the hierarchies that held them together begin to fray, old feuds resurface and new suspicions fester.

Amidst her squabbling captors, Briseis — now married to Alcimus, but carrying the child of the late Achilles — must forge alliances where she can: with young, dangerously naïve Amina, with defiant, aged Hecuba, and with wild-eyed Cassandra, the unheeded seer. And so begins the path to a kind of revenge. Briseis has survived the Trojan War, but peacetime may turn out to be even more dangerous…

My thoughts

This is another outing with a new-to-me author and again I’m wondering why I’ve left it so long.

The beautiful and previously deemed impregnable fortress city of Troy has fallen and the males – all men, boys, and male babies – have been killed to end the Trojan bloodlines and prevent potential future uprisings. The women of Troy, those who did not end their lives rather than be captured, have all been divided between the leaders of the conquering Greek armies as spoils of war, to be used as concubines and slaves. Briseis is one of the more ‘fortunate’ ones. Having been the concubine of Achilles and now pregnant with his child she has been respectably married off to one of his most loyal men which gives her a level of protection that most of the women do not have. Through her eyes we see the turmoil and trauma of the women of Troy as they grieve their loved ones and the loss of the home they loved and felt safe in, and experience the uncertainty of their new lives where a woman’s life depends on the humour of the man she has been given to. And who is likely to be the same man responsible for the deaths of her family. There are politics among the Greek leaders too, although that doesn’t feature in this book as strongly as I expected it to.

I loved this retelling of the aftermath of the fall of Troy. This book follows The Silence Of The Girls which I am intending to read very soon. Because I enjoy Greek mythology and history I am familiar with the story of Troy and the main characters, so I don’t expect to have any trouble going backward to where this book series began. I am also hoping there will be another book so that I can continue to follow Briseis’s story.

Even if you are not familiar with the fall of Troy you will not have difficulty following the names and places mentioned as the author manages to keep everything very clear, not always an easy feat. I highly recommend this book. Give it a go!

Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen

Harry's Trees

Description

When you climb a tree, the first thing you do is to hold on tight…

Thirty-four-year-old Harry Crane works as an analyst for the US Forest Service. When his wife dies suddenly, he is unable to cope. Leaving his job and his old life behind, Harry makes his way to the remote woods of northeastern Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains, determined to lose himself. But fate intervenes in the form of a fiercely determined young girl named Oriana. She and her mother, Amanda, are struggling to pick up the pieces from their own tragedy—Amanda stoically holding it together while Oriana roams the forest searching for answers. And in Oriana’s magical, willful mind, she believes that Harry is the key to righting her world.

Now it’s time for Harry to let go…

After taking up residence in the woods behind Amanda’s house, Harry reluctantly agrees to help Oriana in a ludicrous scheme to escape his tragic past. In so doing, the unlikeliest of elements—a wolf, a stash of gold coins, a fairy tale called The Grum’s Ledger and a wise old librarian named Olive—come together to create a golden adventure that will fulfill Oriana’s wildest dreams and open Harry’s heart to a whole new life.

Harry’s Trees is an uplifting story about the redeeming power of friendship and love and the magic to be found in life’s most surprising adventures.

My thoughts

I wish I could remember where I’d seen this book mentioned as someone’s favourite book because it is now a favourite of mine.

Harry lost his wife in a tragic accident. Amanda lost her husband unexpectedly to an undiagnosed medical condition, and her daughter, Oriana, lost her father. All three are grieving and struggling to move on.

When Harry’s situation suddenly changes dramatically his overwhelming feelings of guilt over his wife’s death drive him to the one place he loves and feels at home in: the forest. At his lowest moment his path crosses Amanda’s and Oriana’s and sets in motion an incredible chain of events that will change their lives, and those of many others.

This is a truly magical book about grief, guilt, redemption, forgiveness, and love. The title is very simple for a book that has such depths. It’s an emotional and uplifting read. I highly recommend it!

Our Lit by Li Tchaikov

Our Lit: A far future science fiction novel.

Description

He’s destined to be the King of Terra Aurora, but only if he defeats the Red Endlai. It’s the only way the prophecy can come true. To succeed, he needs the help of his hunting students and, more importantly, he needs to believe in magic.

Goldie is a Professor of the Hunt. Prophesized to defeat the Red Endlai, he’s forced into action when one of his students is abducted. He can’t, however, confront the troll-like monsters on his own and must enlist the help of his six undergrad students, each with immensely powerful, idiosyncratic auras.

After an unusually vicious attack by the monstrous, flesh-eating Red Endlai, Terra Aurora is put under lockdown. Unprecedented in its nature, the fact that they are using advanced technology to thwart the Terra Auroran’s magical detection defenses could mean the end. It’s time for action. It’s time for Goldie to fulfil his destiny or risk the annihilation of his people. But, is defeating the Red Endlai enough or does the prophecy hold secrets beyond anyone’s imagination?

Set in a world one hundred and twenty-five thousand years in the future, Our Lit is a magical sci-fi novel perfect for lovers of adventurous, speculative fiction. An epic mix of science fiction and fantasy, it’s sure to become a favorite classic.

My thoughts

This was an enjoyable outing. It was a unique concept, well delivered and well written. There were a lot of characters but they were introduced in such a way that it was easy to keep track of who was who, and I especially liked the way more and more of their personalities were revealed as the story unfolded. A bit like the story itself, which kept adding new dimensions to an already larger than life story. It looks as though there will be more stories set in this world and I look forward to reading them.